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A photographer who loves nature and who makes his own cameras to take pictures of it
Recently, an exhibition of photographs by the Ukrainian photo artist Roman Mykhaylyuk, 33, from the city of Ivano-Frankivsk was held at the Kyiv gallery Kamera which is run by Ihor Hayday, the photo artist in his own right. The photographs shown were taken by Roman Mykhaylyuk with a camera that he had made himself. The camera is not digital and uses film; at the time when the digital camera seems to be getting the upper hand over the film camera, Mykhaylyuk’s camera is designed to be able to take pictures under the most unfavourable conditions and achieve the results that the artist wanted it to achieve. His strength is large-scale photographs of landscapes taken under various weather and light conditions.
The artist was interviewed by Mariya VLAD.
Where are you originally from?
I was born and spent my childhood years in the village Verkhovina in the Carpathian Mountains. Now I reside in the city of Ivano-Frankivsk in Western Ukraine but I make regular forays into the mountains to take pictures. For me it’s like having a holiday.
Would you want to live somewhere in the mountains all the time?
Not really. You see, it would blunt the sharpness of perception. To perceive beauty and be moved by it every time you encounter it, is best when you are not in constant contact with it. Those who are exposed to the beauty of nature stop noticing it. It takes a separation with the beauty of nature to start appreciating it once again. I know that you, Ms Vlad, used to live in the Carpathians before you moved to Kyiv. What do you feel when you pay visits to your native place?
Oh, after thirty years of living in Kyiv my fascination with the gorgeous beauty of the scenery of the village where I spent my young years has only increased. I often have dreams in which I see tall trees, so tall they touch the skies; I see a path that led from our house to the well. The path is still there as well as the well, and every time I get there, to that path, I feel like going down on my knees and kissing it rather than just walking along it… But let’s get back to you and your photography, and photo trips into the mountains.
All right. I haul a whole load of equipment with me that weighs about sixty pounds, and with that load I climb as high as maybe six thousand feet. One of my favourite places is called Tserkvy (Churches). It is strewn with huge boulders, the size of a house and some of the boulders have shapes that are reminiscent of churches. And the smerechky there (smerechky — a species of coniferous trees that grow on the slopes of the Carpathians) are something special. I took the pictures of the mountainous scenery under all kinds of lighting and weather conditions, and in all the parts of the day — at sunrise, at sunset, at noon, in fog, you name it. When I deliberately tried to take a picture which would be a sort of repetition of a photograph taken earlier, they never matched each other, they were always different. And I find it’s a good thing — you can’t capture the moment twice.
When did you start taking pictures? And when did you realize photography can also be art?
By education I’m a school teacher but in fact I’ve done no teaching. Neither can I say that my occupation is photography. I observe, I see beauty and I want to capture this beauty on film… It all started when I was still a boy. Once I borrowed a camera from a friend — I can’t remember for sure what motivated me then. It was a very simple camera, but I was fascinated with the results. And when I came into possession of a more sophisticated camera I started going to the forest. You see, trips to the forest had begun for me when I was very small and rode piggyback on my father’s shoulders. Later, there were trips to the forest to hunt for mushrooms and berries. And then it was but natural that I started taking a camera with me to the forest. A moment came when I, being enchanted by the beauty of nature around me, realized that it should be captured in such a way that others would see and feel this beauty too.
Even though I’m not a professional photographer, I realize it may take a special or a very sophisticated camera to capture the ever changing beauty of nature in such a manner that others looking at the photographs would also be enchanted.
Oh, I’ve had quite a lot of cameras but I was never quite satisfied with the results. And I started modifying and even making cameras myself to get what I wanted. I’ll describe only one of my trips to the forest and mention the things that I’d want to snap pictures of. Once, I found myself in the mountains in the evening, when the dark was descending. Somewhere in the distance there were flashes of lightning of a storm moving away. The silhouettes of the hills and rocks and trees that momentarily emerged from darkness were so beautiful — that’s the first set of pictures for you. Unfortunately, no camera that can capture the smells and freshness of the air has been invented yet. So in photography you have to be content only with one sense — vision, but if you try hard enough even through a visual image you can render that freshness and the smells and the onlooker would feel them… The path took me to a little house, or rather a wooden shack, a sort of a free hunter’s or traveller’s lodge. When I was about to enter I saw a pair of eyes staring at me from the dark undergrowth. The eyes were big enough to belong to a big animal — a wolf? A lynx? Or someone less dangerous? But I admit it was a scary moment. I whipped my flashlight out of the backpack and trained the beam on the spot where the eyes were. A moment later, they disappeared as soundlessly as they appeared. I could not help remembering once encountering a bear in my early years in the forest. It was in spring, and the bear had just climbed out of his lair after the months of hibernation. He looked emaciated, his hair hanging in entangled, untidy knots, and he could hardly move so I ran away easily but still it was a fright of my life… Having secured the door of that windowless shack, I climbed into my sleeping bag, wishing I could take a picture of those eyes easy in the dark, and feeling grateful to the people who had built that shack. I woke up before sunrise hoping to capture on film several stages of the dawn from the feeble light to the glory of full sunshine in the mountains. I assembled my equipment, installed the tripod at a place which would, to my mind, provide the best view and then I was ready to capture the glorious moments of nature. It’s not that I snap mindlessly whatever I see — I’m very careful about the composition, the colour, foreground, middle ground and background — that is, everything that goes into making a good picture.
Did you always take pictures predominantly of nature?
No, not always. There was a time when I took pictures of people against the background of nature, but gradually I concentrated mostly on nature, acquiring new cameras with better and better lenses. I read a lot of literature on photography too. Then I discovered that a camera with a wide film was the best for my purposes and it was a major step in my development as a photographer. But I did not have enough money to buy a sophisticated professional camera, and so the natural solution was to build my own cameras. Some of them could take panoramic pictures I used a wide film for slides of six by twelve centimetres or six by twenty centimetres. In fact, most of the photographs shown at the exhibition in the Kamera gallery were taken by the camera that I had made myself. I’m very thankful to Mr Hayday, whose disciple I am, for giving me the opportunity to show my works at his gallery.
This camera of yours — what size is it? Does it look like a regular modern camera from Cannon or Eastman Kodak? I’m sorry for this naive question.
No, my camera surely does not look like those sleek modern creations. If anything, it resembles the cameras of the early twentieth century — a rather big heavy wooden box. It’s rather cumbersome, and rather unwieldy too, particularly if you have to carry it high into the mountains and install it at an uneven or treacherous spot. Sometimes I spend hours, say, by the brook, waiting for the right kind of light effects… I had a carpenter and a draughtsman to help me to build my camera. I would not be able to build a sophisticated camera of the kind that you can purchase in stores but a box with the right sort of lenses is something that is not that difficult to make. The basic design is simple enough.
Do you know of any other photographer using a camera similar to yours?
No, I don’t, but it’s not so much the equipment that makes it possible to make good pictures — it’s your heart and eyes open to the world of wonders.
Photos have been provided by Roman Mykhaylyuk
At sunrise in Zakarpattya. 2005.
The church in the picture is situated
“Kalabanka” — a puddle in rocks.
The first, unexpected snow
Road to Heaven. The Lisnivsky