IN CONVERSATION WITH PHOTOGRAPHER AND VISUAL ARTIST KRISTINA KULAKOVA
In the course of a project for this year's Special Edition we are working with an inspiring photographer and artist - Kristina Kulakova.
She brings over ten years of experience from the world of art but also the world of advertising, which has helped her realize numerous award-winning campaigns. We met with Kristina to talk about her daily inspiration and life as a photographer, as well as the meaning of "TRANSITION - Darkness becomes light" for her.
Tell us something about yourself: What is your biggest inspiration?
I love adventure and philosophy of things. Normally my inspiration comes from everyday life, I guess I took the advice of my uni professor to live life as it were a movie too seriously, as my life story would make a good script!
My biggest inspiration comes from moments of truth. I get influenced by different cultures & traditions, and as long as I can remember myself, I have been searching for answers and meaning of life in books, mysticism and different spiritual teachings of the east. I chased those to their source and still ride on that inspiration curve.
How did you get into photography and how would you describe your work?
I honestly cannot remember the time when I had no camera on me. My mother was working as DOP (Director of Photography) when I was little, so I was growing up with the camera being almost an extra family member, a bit like Sally Mann’s kids, but without those photos becoming public. I studied film, and was always curious about photography, but it was never in the center, because I was trying myself in other professions in film and TV productions at the time. I gave it a real chance after I got a knee injury on one of the productions, where I was filming years later in Vienna. After the surgery I could barely walk, so I had to quit my dream of becoming a DOP. During my recovery I had a lot of time for self-reflection and then I realized that photography will always be a huge part of my life no matter what, so I began to make steps towards making it my main profession. It was challenging to balance that with my main job as head of pr and marketing at viennacontemporary, but eventually I managed to make the switch.
Photography is my instrument to explore the duality of the word and humans' appearance in it. In a way my work is the extension of me and shows all the different states I am experiencing - it is soft and funky, edgy, but shy, loud & fun but always looking for balance and zen. It is practically impossible to combine all those in one person sometimes, so often I am using photography as a key tool to perceive life and give it a focal point, merging the important and elusive into one.
What does a typical day look like for you?
It varies a lot and depends on where I am. But there are a couple of things I don’t skip: meditation, some sort of physical exercise (yoga, run, swim, surf, this varies a lot), studio time, artist supply shops, photo lab and a printer shop. Those are my go-to places no matter where I am in the world. I am often on the move, so when I travel, I am also sticking to some sort of routine. I used to spend a lot of time offline in nature and a day or two exploring local architecture and art galleries. But now I am trying to adjust to the city life again (it is hard). Nobody cancelled stuff like emails, pre and postproduction and so on, so if I can I try to do that from a nice hotel lobby to make it somewhat bearable and imagine I am on vacation. Not the postproduction. For that I go to the co-working.
When I am not busy with the camera and art stuff I teach yoga and spend a lot of time in dance studios, experiment with different meditation techniques, love going to concerts, reading or spend hours in the cinema and in nature.
What was your most inspirational project/ encounter?
It’s a hard one! I think so far it was my experience with Huni Kuin people in Brazilian Amazon. I was there twice and last Christmas I spent a month living with indigenous people in the tiny remote village on the border of Brazil and Peru. By far it was the most challenging project both physically and mentally, but despite that I am grateful for every single obstacle I faced there (it started with heavy influenza & incredible amount of mosquito bites, followed by losing half of the footage forever and a snake bite to top it off, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg). It is impossible to describe all the gifts I got from that encounter - life changing would not be an overstatement. I was met with so much kindness and learned a lot from their wisdom and relationship they have in the community and nature. I was able to find a lot of answers I was looking for last twenty years.
“TRANSITION – Darkness becomes Light” is the theme of our current Special Edition expressing breaking free from the past and starting new - What do you associate with it?
Sooooo much! Last two years were a rollercoaster ride for me, under the label "transformation". One week before Covid I took a sabbatical, because I felt stuck in the personality I have become. I had amazing life on paper, but my soul was longing for freedom of creative expression, so I quit the city life and went to India in search for some answers… Little did I know I would get stuck there for five months in lockdown! From there I moved to the US… At the end of that year I got back to Europe. I practically took a very long vacation from my normal life and all that during extreme travel restrictions. Imagine. This transition was beautiful, painful and crazy at times, but I wouldn’t change a thing. They say it is darkest before the dawn and I experienced this to be true. Breaking free from the past is never easy, but most of the time it is rewarding! It is important to remember that there is no light without darkness and wise versa.
What role do light and shadow play for you and your photography?
Well, there is no photography without that play, so I’d say essential.
What is art for you and what would you recommend for someone who is new to art?
I could write a book answering this question! The short version - I think art is what makes this life worth living.
For someone who is new to art I think the best thing is to explore and be open! When I started working in contemporary art ten years ago, I was a novice, I did not understand anything, and, for example, perceived video art as poorly made movie. I studied film and not video art. But everything changed when I saw the exhibition from Julia Stoschek collection. OMG! I was in heaven and spent hours watching those mesmerizing installations and documentation of land art. But before that I made it my mission to understand why those “poorly produced films” were in a museum, and it allowed this experience to occur. I realized I had to be patient until I found the artists I liked and admired and there was so much inspiration in there. Look at it like at breakfast: until you try every type of cooked egg you won’t be able to tell which one is your favorite. So, try to find what is inspiring and exciting and don’t let those confusing things in museums get you off too fast. Give it a chance to surprise you.
Choose your favorite NEUBAU campaign / NEUBAU glasses and tell us why you like them most?
I really like that you used four elements as foundation for some of your collections. I chose the glasses from Odeeh / NEUBAU collaboration and I really love them! Most of the things I wear have a story behind it, so I really like your concept and thinking behind a campaign. However, I have to be honest and admit that in the end the looks have the final say. I am not the fan of trends, but rather timeless pieces, I can keep wearing when I am 70 & live somewhere in the desert, like Georgia o'Keeffe. ;)
Lime and Purple are the main colors of our current special edition, which one do you prefer and why?
Both colors speak to me, but I gotta go for Lime, because it is fresh, punchy and fun!