My name is Alesja Serada, I’m 35, I’m from Minsk, Belarus.
I’ve been through all kinds of ‘creative’ jobs in my life. Right now, I’m working at my Master’s thesis in Visual Culture, and I hope to continue my studies as a postgraduate student. My pinhole project started as a study project on visual sociology during my Master’s.
So, Alesja, why do you do what you do?
Actually, I started doing photography about ten years ago, as a way of connecting with the people and the world. My observation is, people usually do creative things to brighten up their reality, or to escape from reality, but I actually do it to keep in closer contact with reality, even if I can’t accept it with my heart.
What is integral to your practice?
As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been doing photography for a while, mostly shooting mindlessly, but it only started working for me when I applied more theory I had learned in my Visual Culture programme. So, my practice is very cerebral now.
In 2018, my teacher challenged me to conduct an empirical study based on methodology of Bruno Latour. Bruno Latour is a French ‘rock star’ sociologist with controversial ideas, which don’t really work well empirically, so it was a real challenge. I recalled his popular example of a tin can floating in the sea, as a non-human agent that can actually see us.
Then, I found Diana Pankova, who is a talented pinhole photographer - you can find her on Instagram as maverick_mariner - and conducted a small field study with her. We went out and made photographs with tin cans, and so it started. After my study course was over, I was encouraged to do a full scale artistic project, and this is what I am doing now, independently.
Are there any particular themes you pursue with your practice?
This specific project (“What The Tin Can Saw”) is about my city, Minsk, its architecture and planning. Minsk is a very ‘Soviet’ city, with a lot of Socialist architecture. A lot of it is absolutely hideous (like the area where I grew up), but there are certain districts which were meant for the Party elite, military professionals, and model workers.
These parts of the city still show this imaginary picture of “happy socialism”, and for people in their 30’s and 40’s, they have this dreamlike air of nostalgia. Also, they are in decline now, as the official city development plan implies demolishing anything lower than three stories if it cannot be turned into a flashy tourist magnet. So, for this project, I am mostly photographing low story houses from 1950’s or older, with a particular interest to abandoned buildings or areas soon to be ‘developed’, as well as more distinct Soviet architecture to create more context.
Has your practice change over time? If so, how?
My composition skills have improved significantly over time. Also, I started with authentic Soviet photo paper from the 1970’s, simply because I was not ready to spend too much money on it, and many people in post-Soviet countries still have photo equipment and materials from their fathers and grandfathers somewhere on the upper shelf. I used modern paper later. But my instruments are still the same old tin cans, and I am not going to upgrade them for this project - they are a part of it.
Is there a specific piece you’re especially proud of? And why?
There is one particular house in my photographs that was actually being demolished while I was taking pictures of it. And that one was not even Soviet heritage, it was from the XIX century or older! Conceptually, I should have tried even longer exposures, like, a week long, for that one, but I missed the chance. Still, it holds a special place in my heart.
From whom do you draw the most inspiration?
I’m mostly inspired by abstract ideas, like in that case with Latour. I think now I’d be able to do a visual project even on Karl Marx, even though it is not a pleasant reading, and certainly not an ‘inspiration’ in the usual sense.
What is your dream project?
I’d love to do an album cover. I haven’t mentioned music as my inspiration because it is a very different experience for me, cordial, not cerebral. But I need this emotional connection, I just haven’t figured out yet how to connect.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
“Do not go quietly unto your grave” - it is a song by Morphine, and I relate to it a lot.