Poltava is more than just a Ukrainian city on a river, it is a very special place: this is where past and present, beliefs and reality come together. The photographer’s impressive and artistic series sets out to uncover the mystery.

You say that Poltava is a special place, a kind of microcosm with its own universe and mythology. What is the reason for this?
Poltava is a very interesting place, where several important and at times peculiar historical events took place, and it is also surrounded by mythologies that local people maintain, cherish and develop further among themselves. One of the famous historical events was the Poltava Battle, which happened on the territory of Poltava between the Russians and the Swedes in 1709. This historical event was one of the turning points in the destiny of Eastern Europe. Many famous writers and poets had some connection to Poltava and have written about it. This place is full of mystery, almost as if it had a consciousness of its own. It speaks to you, and it attracts unusual people into its “web”.

Your photographs seem like a counter-product to modernity, they are mystical, dark but, at the same time, very colourful testimonies of tradition in the present.
I think the past plays a very large role in Poltava, due to certain historical events and important characters that lived there and left an important mark. One of such characters, for instance, is Ivan Miasoedov who was a famous artist and generally a very eccentric and unusual 20th century figure. The so-called Garden of Gods (one of the places portrayed in my series) is part of the former manor of Ivan Miasoedov’s father. It was there that he organized a secret society of artists and philosophers who met there regularly. A large part of Poltava consists of very old houses and yards that haven’t change much for centuries. The old ways of living are still quite present there. Local people also care a lot about the ancient cultural heritage of Ukraine in general, and Poltava specifically, and therefore the old historical buildings are very important. One of them, for example, is the Cadets’ Building that I had the luck to capture before it was closed for reconstruction.

What role does painting play in your work?
I come from a multidisciplinary background and, in fact, painting was one of the mediums that I explored most in my early artistic practice. Therefore, it is possible that subconsciously it still informs my photographic work, in terms of how I see colour, composition and light. For me, photography is not only about capturing a moment in time, but rather about creating an image that has a meaning, and a certain psychological as well as visual impact, in the same way as a good painting does. So, when I photograph I am looking carefully at every detail, and make sure that nothing is there for no reason or that interrupts the narrative or the visual harmony.

What exactly does your photographic process look like – from shooting to post-processing?
Most of my projects are shot with minimal equipment. Only my camera, tripod and light bouncing disk, no flashes, or other external lights. I wanted to capture the true spirit of the place, and therefore I only used the light that was already there. And that, of course, means often having to use a very slow shutter speed. The Leica Q2 handles slow shutter speed very well, and I was even able to handhold the camera at 1/8th of a second and still get sharp images. Although in such low light I usually try to use my tripod. And I never go higher than 800 ISO as I don’t like when the images are too grainy. In terms of post-production, there is not that much that I do. I process the raw files and I adjust the contrast and sometimes the colour (if necessary) slightly. I don’t use any special effects or filters. I only adjust the basics to the point where it feels right. But of course, I do have a certain preference in terms of the balance of cool and warm tones, which I adjust accordingly. But I never use any presets; every photo is processed separately.

The director Andrej Tarkovskij once said that he wanted to create moods with his films and spoke of a “logic of the poetic”. What makes the poetry, the narrative, of a picture for you?
Tarkovskij is certainly one of my favourite and most respected artists/film-makers. For me, one of the most important elements in a picture is when it captures something that lies beneath the surface of the visible; something that makes me wonder and imagine the world that surrounds the person or the place that is captured; something that makes me dream when I look at the image. I also like the feeling of timelessness and stillness, which makes the viewer kind of dive into it and stay there for moment. When I select my photographs, I always look from the point of view that the image should excite me, and somehow be mysterious; it shouldn’t reveal everything at once, there should be some space for the imagination. And this for me is the poetry of the narrative. My favourite moments are when the viewers of my work come up with their own stories, or find a connection to their personal memories and associations. When that happens, I feel that the images are successful, because that means that they have touched on something universal.

Viktoria Sorochinski, an artist with Ukrainian roots, has lived in the former USSR, in Israel, Canada and the United States, and currently lives in Berlin. She has had numerous international exhibitions and publications, and is a winner and finalist of many competitions, including the Leica Oskar Barnack Award. Sorochinski also works as a curator, gives talks, runs workshops for various institutions, and coaches individually. Find out more about her photography on her website and Instagram page.

Leica Q

Full Frame. Compact. Uncompromising.