Picture a 23-year-old Russian living in Switzerland and working as a professional showboarder. Then imagine somebody who’s also madly in love with photography. And now try to merge these two characters together. Not possible? Well allow us to introduce Iouri Podladtchikov.
Q: Iouri, as the story goes, your were born in Russia but spent most of your teenage years in Europe. Why is that?
A: Yes, that’s absolutely right. I was born in Moscow in 1988, but my parents left the country when I was four years old. My father was working as a Geophysicist at the time, a field that offered him lots of possibilities abroad. We lived in Sweden and the Netherlands for a while until my family settled down in Switzerland. I actually got my citizenship in 2007 which means that I’m a Swiss guy now with Russian roots.
Q: It sounds like you had a pretty eventful youth. So tell us, at what point comes your snowboarding career to life?
A: Well, I started snowboarding in my early childhood. Actually, I remember starting off with skateboarding and snowboarding when I was eleven or twelve. But from a professional kind of view it wasn’t until 2003, when I attended the Russian championships for the first time. I’m now a professional snowboarder; that’s what I do for a living, even if I wouldn’t actually describe it as my job. I don’t do it because of the money. Snowboarding means much more to me. It is the passion of being on the board that drives me.
Q: Where does that passion come from?
A: There are many different aspects to it I think, but for the most part I’d say it nourishes from the constant progress I feel when I’m riding my snowboard. I permanently learn something new and literally feel how I get better and better. To me, it’s sort of an ultimate feeling to do something better than anyone else. I suppose making progress in general triggers a good feeling and I get this feeling while being on my board.
Q: Besides snowboarding, what are the most important parts in your life right now?
A: At the moment my life changes every day or at least every week. I’m living life in fast-forward, that’s why my perspective changes so quickly. If I had to describe myself, I’d say spontaneity is one of my prevailing character traits. Although, there are some steady parts too – first and foremost my family and friends. Also, the place I live in is very crucial to me. And, last but not least, my enthusiasm for photography.
Q: A professional snowboarder who is in love with the arts? How exactly did that happen?
A: You know, I started off as a snowboarder because I was very into sports in my teenage years, but I always was attracted by the arts as well. As a matter of fact, I definitely would have applied at an art institute if I hadn’t managed to get into a sports university. For me, the best thing about being a contemporary photographer is the instant gratification that I get out of it. You take a picture and you immediately see the outcome. That’s awesome. For the most part I like to take portraits of people. Obscure facial expressions or moments that just appear for the split of a second, that’s what I’m looking for in my pictures. Capturing a moment in time, isn’t that something very desirable?
Q: It is indeed, Iouri. Does that mean it was your desire of stopping the world for a moment that triggered the interest in photography in the first place?
A: I think that’s safe to say, yes. At some point in my life I started to travel a lot and with the traveling suddenly my interest in photography awakened because I didn’t just want to have the pictures stuck in my mind. I also wanted to have something physical as a keepsake of the places that I’ve traveled and the things that I’ve experienced. I think it has something to do with perpetuation. For me, taking a picture is almost like saving this special moment for the future. When I look at a picture ten years from now, I still want to be able to feel that exact moment again. It’s not about taking the picture at all it’s more about saving a feeling.
Q: Ok, but if it’s more about capturing feelings rather than just taking a picture, the quality standards of your camera are getting increasingly significant, right?
A: Yes, absolutely. If you want to capture a particular feeling your images should match a high-quality standard. For me, the most important thing with a camera is that I can trust in its technology. In other words: when I click the button, I need to be sure that quality-wise I get exactly what I expect. And I have to admit, that with Leica, I’ve never been disappointed in that respect and most likely never will be.
Q: Fair enough. But the best equipment doesn’t pay off if the guy behind the camera doesn’t know what to do…
A: That’s right. On one hand, it’s very important to have high-quality equipment. Otherwise, you are disappointed at the end when your photos are poorly developed from a technical point of view. On the other hand, it’s essential to have at least some basic knowledge about photography. You definitely have to know how to frame your shots so you don’t cut out hands and feet for instance. In my experience, it’s the trivial stuff that makes the difference. At the end of the day and despite all the craftsmanship, it’s basically all about how you train your eye. How you develop this distinctive look you want to incorporate. That’s what makes your picture unique.
Q: Talking about uniqueness, is it crucial to think about the statement you want to express before taking a picture or is it all about the frozen moment?
A: Well, I think it depends on the person who’s taking the picture, but for me, the statement is either there or not. A picture can also be vivid and beautiful without a particular statement. Sometimes it’s just effectual if a certain blue is just blue. Although, I think a certain moment and its distinct message can’t be separated. Any photo tells its own unique story and very often it will tell different stories to different people. This individualistic interpretation is exactly what matters the most.
Q: Does that mean that you’d like people to feel and explore the captured moments themselves while they are watching it?
A: If you want to put it that way, yes. I’d like to inspire other people through my photography. I’d like to share happiness in a sense. I think if you are able to share happiness, people will pay you back with happiness. I remember my first exhibition where some of the people started to get really enthusiastic about a certain picture. This kind of excitement is exactly what I want to trigger with my work.
Q: But sharing excitement also means stepping out of your comfort zone and taking a risk in the first place. You can’t be a scary-cat once you do that, can you?
A: Yes, there is no doubt about it. You need self-confidence and courage when you go public, but both traits come naturally from my snowboarding career. If you can’t fight fear to a certain degree, you’ll never make it down the slope. It’s pretty much the same with arts. The difference is that the fear that comes with snowboarding is a bit more drastic though.
Q: Iouri, thanks so much for sharing those insights with us. Just one last thing: As interesting as photography might be, aren’t there sometimes situations where you’d rather swap your photo camera with a video camera.
A: Phew, I think you’ve got me. Sure, sometimes you’ll find yourself in a situation where somebody is telling an interesting or hilarious story. Those are the moments where a picture is suddenly not enough. You also want to capture the person’s voice and some of the ambiant sounds to transfer the full pleasure of this situation to somebody else. Those are the situations where I embrace the possibility of taking short video with my Leica V-Lux 3. It just broadens up the variety of possible usage and therefore the pleasure I get.
-Leica Internet Team