*An interview series with a play on “20 questions,” where I try to mix it up with different questions. Some serious, some not so much. I’ll also be focusing the series on some of the best street photographers from the cities I visit around the world during my 100 Cities project.
For this installment of 20 Questions, we’re going to London, England to get to know photographer Dmitry Stepanenko. I met Dmitry last summer when I went to photograph his city of London. He offered to show me some of his favorite spots for shooting and we’ve been friends since. Dmitry is also a founding member of the The Street Collective, which I have since became a member of and will be returning to London to teach our upcoming Color Street Photography Workshop on March 10th with Dmitry (spots available!). So what better time to interview him for the blog than now.
Dmitry was born and grew up in Odessa, Ukraine, but has called London his home since 2010. It was actually since moving to the UK that he found his passion for photography too. Dmitry’s photos show a strong connection to light and color, creating images out of daily life that can give a cinematic or painting like feel. Geometry, reflections, colors, contrast, light, and shadow composed together with a human element to give it even more life.
So now to learn more about him, it’s time for 20 Questions in London, England with Dmitry Stepanenko…
20 Questions with Dmitry Stepanenko
Before we get to the 20 questions, please introduce yourself. Your name, where you’re from and one interesting thing about you?
Hi! My name is Dmitry, I live and shoot in London, UK. An interesting thing… hmmm… I like and am good at all things you can do on a table, e.g. table football, table tennis, table ice hockey, board games, etc.
1. What is your earliest memory of photography?
Taking photos of my parents while on a trip to Italy. I was about 11.
2. What do you think drew you to your preferred subjects in photography?
I like mystery and colour in my photography so I guess I have been influenced by David Lynch and Harry Gruyaert most.
3. What advice would you have given yourself when first starting in photography?
I would say to think more about my photography in terms of projects. Otherwise, I wouldn’t really change anything as I think I learnt from the mistakes I made.
4. How has your photographic style evolved over the years?
I started as a black and white photographer keen to learn from the masters of the past. At that time, I liked clean shots, nice geometry, play of light and shadow. After discovering the works of Ernst Haas, Harry Gruyaert, Gueorgui Pinkhassov, Alex Webb and others I completely switched to colour photography in 2012-2013. Nowadays, I am looking to achieve a certain kind of harmony in my photography, which sometimes can be seen in certain styles of painting.
5. What is your preferred set-up (gear) when hitting the streets for photography?
I believe that a camera is just an instrument you need to use to do photography, it should be convenient and allow you to concentrate fully on the artistic process, but it’s not more than that. Personally, I use an Olympus OMD EM-5 which I find to be a decent camera that is easy to use and produces satisfactory results.
6. Describe how you approach Street Photography?
I tend to leave my house in the morning and only come back home completely exhausted in the evening. I don’t have any idea in mind when I go out, but I try to notice promising places or do sketches and come back to the same spots at a later time if I like them.
7. What are some things you hope viewers take from your work?
I want my viewers to ask questions, to find their own meanings and to get aesthetic pleasure from my work.
Not So Serious Questions:
8. You get one superpower for photography, what would it be and why? (You can’t choose invisibility!)
Ability to go 5 minutes back in time to capture any missed moment.
9. You also get 3 photography related wishes, what are they?
To travel the world
To have more time for photography
To be able to share my work with more people
2 Speed Rounds (Give the first answers that come to mind)
This or That:
10. Content or Form?
11. Instincts or Planned?
12. One Shot or Many?
13. Inspirational Photographers
Alex Webb, Harry Gruyaert, and Gueorgui Pinkhassov.
14. Non-photographic interests?
Table tennis, rock and blues music, and board games.
15. Important Qualities for a Street Photographer to Have?
- Being critical and sceptical about your work
- Being hardworking and not giving up if something goes wrong
- Being open-minded
I think the above applies to pretty much anything.
16. Where do you like to photograph most in your city, London, and why?
I like exploring, as I get tired of the same locations. Having said that, I like Soho, Shoreditch and Southbank most if I need to choose.
17. Your work shows a strong interest in color and how it can work with light, reflections, geometry and more to create images that include an artistic, and sometimes cinematic, appeal. Is there a focus towards this style of yours when out shooting? Or does it come only from shooting what attracts you?
I think it comes naturally. It is not that I try to only focus on some things, but rather I am attracted by them and react more to certain situations. I like capturing semi-abstract photographs with a human element as it adds some unpredictability and uniqueness to an image. Quite often I notice some nice colours or light and I just appreciate them, I might not even take a photo, I just enjoy looking at them.
18. You grew up and lived in Odessa, Ukraine and then Russia until 2009. Since moving to London, your photographic interest has grown quite a bit. Do you have any interest or pull to photograph more of your home city/country now?
Indeed. Ironically, I only started with photography after moving to UK. I am planning to visit Odessa next autumn so I’m hoping to do some street photography in my home town at last! I guess it will be a very interesting experience to look at the streets that I know so well from a totally different point of view.
Behind a photo:
19. Pick a photo of yours that you remember capturing and share any memories you have attached to it.
Usually, I tend to go out to shoot on my own and am easily distracted by any people who accompany me so I usually don’t take many photos when I walk with someone. The same applies to my wife, even though she understands that I might disappear at any moment or may need to stick around in an interesting spot. In January 2016 we went to Venice and walked there all day long every day, mostly doing the usual touristy things. Still, I was trying to get some street photos whenever possible so I was actively looking around in search for interesting scenes.
One evening when it was already dark (and on the narrow streets of Venice it gets really dark) and I was having my tired eyes (you know when you don’t notice interesting things anymore) my wife just suddenly stopped me and pointed at the window saying “Look! This might be a good photo!” So I stopped and took that photo that I would have otherwise missed if I were there on my own. The moral is you never know where the photo opportunity comes from and to always listen to your wife.
The Final Question:
20. You have only 3 photos left on your last roll of film.
- In the first direction, you see children climbing a wall covered in graffiti
- In the second direction, you see a large group of women dressed up in colorful matching dresses
- In the third direction, you see two older men in suits arguing at a table through a window
- And in the last direction, you see a protest with everyone wearing masks and holding signs
The light is perfect at all 4 locations. What do you do?
All situations present great opportunities for photography. I think if you try to catch three situations with one frame per each you might miss all three chances. So I would choose only one option (which is hard given the possibilities). If the colour is nice in the scene with arguing men through the window, I might go photograph them, otherwise the group of women.
Another big thank you to Dmitry for the Interview, and for anyone who would like to see more of his work, check the links below!
3-Day Color Street Photography Workshop in London (March 10th-12th)