His pictures reveal a fascination for things that appear self-evident: Sasha Lytvyn’s photographic work is dedicated to recurring themes relating to humanity, existence and life itself, where he refers to moments of daily life as personal discoveries.
Your images were created at different times and at different locations. What connects them?
Over the years, I’ve realized that I’m interested in the images that stand alone. What I mean by that is a photograph that lives by itself and has a structure that pleases the eye, calling you back to look at it over and over again. A print you want to hang on the wall, and that doesn’t need supportive images to add context. Nothing before it, nothing after. Those kind of images feel very close to me, and I have learned to create them. In fact, you don’t even need to create them, they come to you if you allow it. And over time you can see how they start connecting with each other, revealing something else and creating the series.
What stories do you tell with your images?
If you really spend time with them, they will tell you stories of your own. They are my own discoveries and definitely have deeper underlying meanings that will reveal themselves to the one who seeks. They have recurring themes of humanity, existence, connection and life itself. Waiters and workers, lovers and strangers, uniformity and equality, and the simple stories of those who build the homes we live in, who pave the streets we walk on. Simple fascination and gratitude for things we usually take for granted. I’m trying to grasp how similar we all are, while at the same time being so diverse and deeply unique.
You seem to follow the idea of the “poetry of every-day life”. What exactly does that mean to you?
It means that if you stop and really look, you start seeing. Those simple things we call “mundane” and “everyday-daily life” are actually the most important moments that make up our period of existence on this planet. Once you start noticing them, everything else begins to make sense and have purpose. And those moments are simply beautiful. They reveal more than they seem to be on the surface. Some call it meditation, I call it photography. A camera has a very unique ability to transmit an emotion, and if at the moment of capture a feeling goes through the photographer, then it is reflected in the image, and later gets picked up by the viewer. So it creates a closed circuit for the energy to travel.
You are a self-taught photographer. What was your trigger?
The unconscious desire was there since an early age. I would always ask my dad to teach me how to use his camera. He had a Russian copy of a Leica called Fed, and he used to develop our first family photos in the bathroom. I liked to get it out of the drawer and play with it. There was this mechanical aspect and tactile feel about it that still gets to me to this day. Throughout the years my dad’s answer to my requests was, “read the manual”; but, of course I didn’t do that until the first years of university. Then, one evening, the painter cousin of my girlfriend at that time, showed me a photograph of his, and something about it quite literally blew my mind. Somehow after that precise moment, I just became obsessed with photography. That’s when I got home and read the manual for the first time; but not for my father’s rangefinder camera, but rather the SLR Zenit I got from my great grandfather. I started burning through film every day, like someone obsessed.
Which cameras did you use for your shoots, and what is it you value about them?
Although I think of myself as a very technical photographer, I do prefer simple tools that don’t get in the way of the creative process. For that I love and value Leica rangefinders. I took certain of the images used here with Leica M10D and MD262 models. In the modern world of digital photography, where it constantly feels like a computer is trying to make decisions for you, these remained the cameras most stripped down to essentials. The biggest value I find in them is the simplistic approach to photography. It is only a rangefinder that allows you to experience the fine line between feeling like an observer and a participant of the moment, at the same time. For me it’s a physical pleasure.
All the pictures are in black and white. Is there a reason for your choice?
I do shoot colour, and I love it as much as black and white. But black and white is the middle ground to bridge my digital and analogue workflows. I shoot and print both and mix both constantly. I always experiment with ways to print in both mediums. For me they are one.
You pay a lot of attention to composition and forms in every image…
Visual language is one of the most primitive and powerful languages in the world. It goes beyond words, it’s international. But, just like you can’t make words without letters and put them into sentences, you can’t make images without composition. It’s the most important glue that holds everything together. Well-composed images are like gateways to the psyche of the viewer, and they bring pleasure to look at. For me it’s fascinating to discover where the boundaries of those compositional rules lie, and to play around with them by pushing the image structure to the limits, where it’s on the edge of falling apart, but still works and creates something new. So the structure of the image is crucial; it’s the backbone of any good photograph.
You left Ukraine roughly ten years ago for America. Is there a photographic aspect you took with you from your homeland?
To be honest, ten years ago I wasn’t seeing things the way I see them now. As a teenager, everything in Ukraine was beyond boring for me, both photographically and personally. I guess it’s different when you grow up in a place. But now, ten years later, everything I overlooked before is so, so interesting and visually stimulating. Photographically speaking, it feels like I’m seeing it for the first time; it feels like a new playground for a kid to explore. Now, like never before, making serious work at home feels very important to me, and I’m looking forward to seeing where it leads.
What does beauty mean for you?
It’s how you choose to see things in life.
Sasha Lytvyn is a Ukrainian-born artist who moved to the United Sates in 2010, in pursuit of his passion for photography. He has been working in the field of commercial image-making ever since, offering his artistic documentary approach to editorial and commercial assignments. His work follows the notion of making “poetry out of the mundane”, as most of his deeply personal work is created out of ordinary situations taken from everyday life. Find out more about his photography on his website and Instagram channel.