Kira Vygrivach: visual illusions, reclaiming reality

Young photographer and filmmaker Kira Vygrivach is carrying out a survey about a sensitive knowledge of the world, where logical deduction of the things we observe has no place. In this respect, she explores the stylistic and conceptual characteristics of the experimental documentary genre - seen as much in her filmmaking as in her photography. Between reality and dreamworld, this raises the question of inside and outside - what is at stake in and on the surface of the representation – it encourages the image to remain suspended between the  internal and external.

Moreover, we put everything else in that category, namely what we generally call affects, instincts and impulses. This world of half-dreams allows us to carry out a micro-inspection of ourselves, to fulfill the journey we’re on, above all, by personal exploration, and then extend it on the sensitive and visible level of things. Only by making this journey from “self” to “others” does Kira Vygrivach achieve her aim of reaching viewers and getting them to react to a reality which has become more and more commonplace, and whose passivity that leads to the ordinary governs our everyday life.

Kira Vygrivach headshot

© Kira Vygrivach

The surreal images of her photographic series “Summer City Dream”, with dreamlike compositions, are played out in the unconscious of the narrator, the author of the photographs. The narrative is both personal and universal, the composition layout, the play of light, the point of view and the distorted perspective are the choices which disrupt our vision and which lead us to question our comprehension of reality where memory (and in a wider sense time) plays a vital role. We should first question what it becomes in terms of reality.

Kira Vygrivach - Summer City Dreams

Summer City Dreams © Kira Vygrivach

Can you briefly explain your background your journey? When did you start taking photos and videos? When did you start practicing artistic photography?

After my studies and working in the artificial intelligence field, I swapped artificial intelligence for the arts. Actually, I have always loved photography, my father was an amateur photographer and I understood the atmosphere of a film laboratory from a very early age; the red light and the magical revelation of images in the developper… My reorientation towards photography happened in a few steps: in 2008, I began my photography journey, in 2012, I moved to France where I deepened my practice and in 2014, I started cinema studies. As a matter of fact, photography and cinema are the two mediums that I feel passionate about.

Documentary photography quickly became my preferred genre and it’s still the case today. Documentary is for me - maybe more so than others - artistic. All of my artistic series have been done in this way: I fabricate nothing, I capture the truth of life - admittedly my truth - and often it’s easier: life is much more creative than we are, we just need to be sensitive to that and be able to react.

Kira Vygrivach - Summer City Dreams

Summer City Dreams © Kira Vygrivach

What is is that you like about this medium?

It’s my third eye, I see things differently with the naked eye. The camera makes me more perceptive and lets me see - and show - these miracles. I like having the power to stop time and the camera gives me this opportunity.

Can you tell us about your cultural, visual and aesthetic influences?

I am Russian, therefore of course Russian culture is rooted in me: this influence is particularly significant. I often come back to the subjects of race, home and nature: I spent my summers in a  remote village in the Iaroslavl region; I understand forests, fields and the countryside… I am sensitive to poetry no matter how it’s expressed. I believe that people nowadays are very poetic and spiritual. After all, all this is manifested in my work… I actually struggle to judge that. It’s up to you to tell me.

Which realms do you feel most close to?

There are loads. In terms of cinema, there is, of course, Tarkovski, as well as Sokourov, Wim Wenders, Ingmar Bergman, Dostoïevski, Pasternak and Boulgakov. In terms of literature, Saint-Exupéry and Oscar Wilde, to name the first couple that come to mind. And in terms of photography, Michael Kenna, Mario Giacomelli and Shōji Ueda…

Does your experience in filmmaking and cinema influence your photography?

I think that after having worked in cinema, I have gained insight on what I have then done in photography. Nowadays, I don’t want to just create something “pretty”, I want to tell a story. It’s challenging trying to achieve this through a photo (or even a series of photos), it's more complicated to do. But when you succeed, the photo has a much stronger impact of the viewer - much stronger than a moving image. Because a still picture gives the viewer time to reflect, to feel things and to find the freedom to invent their own story.

Kira Vygrivach - Summer City Dreams

 Summer City Dreams © Kira Vygrivach

Can you tell us a bit about your series “Summer City Dream”?

The series was taken in Nice in 30 minutes. I didn’t even realise how it was “completed”. It was as if I had just fallen into a black hole and I came out of it with something precious. It happens to me. I compare this state to being in a dream, or being in “Alice in Wonderland”. Especially in the case of this series - there is the mirror, there are figures of children bathed in a dreamlike sensation, it’s even surrealist. However, it's just a part of normal reality, but seen in another way. I like exploring this link between dream and reality. I truly believe that the line between these two universes is much more blurred than we think. When I raise this duality of existence, I’m willing to accept seeing a fusion of the two worlds, creating a new harmony.  I’m looking for a portal of perception that is different from that of the world around us.

How would you describe your style of photography? Are you purely looking to take aesthetic and formal photos, or is there a narrative discourse that you also introduce to your photos?

I don’t know if “purely aesthetic” exists. If it speaks to you, then it already has a deeper meaning. Even when we’re talking about abstraction, we should ask, in what way does it speak to us? In my case, most often I have a story behind me, but - above all - I use my own awareness to awaken the viewer's sensitivity, to open their senses and imagination, forcing them to dig deep within themselves and invent their own stories. I often think that words are useless and even disruptive. They break the magic and restrain freedom of the senses. To be precise, we have become too logical. We expect explanations. My photos are not very logical (unlike me, in my first job, where there was no room for accidents).

Kira Vygrivach - Summer City Dreams

 Summer City Dreams © Kira Vygrivach

Does this series stand alone as a project or is it part of a larger artistic process? Are there themes or or methods that you favour in photography in general?

First and foremost, my love for dreams is because when we are in a dream - we accept everything that happens to us, even the most bizarre. We’re ready for any sort of experience. However, in everyday life we tend to block, ‘deny’ or ‘not notice’ things that are outside the scope of our ‘norms’. If in everyday life we dived into a dream state, we would become more open, more sensitive and more flexible. If I can help create a dream-like space amongst the viewers, even for a second, then I'm happy. Secondly, the fact that I don’t fabricate anything in my photos - that I create dream-like images purely from reality (100% real) - shows that even in everyday life there are magical elements. I ask you to break routine, to be attentive and sensitive to the world around us. 

How do you take your photos? Do you communicate a lot with your models or is it snapshot-type photography taken on the spot? Can you describe the way you do it? How you choose your camera, post-production work or not, etc...

When I do portraits, I try to always take the picture "on the spot", even when the model looks at the camera and knows that they are being photographed. I am very sensitive to what is natural and what is artificial, and I hate the latter.

Moreover, there are several ways to ensure that the model is "themselves" when I click the shutter. First of all, they must have a good relationship with the photographer, they have to trust me and trust my eye and my taste. I often say that "a photo is the model, the photographer and what is created between them", taken "on the spot", even when the model looks at the camera and knows that they are being photographed. To take a beautiful picture, I have to fall in love with what I’m photographing - even if it's an object - just for that moment when I’m shooting. If I find nothing that inspires me, or makes me admire it, then the image feels dead to me. So first of all I have to focus my work on myself, you see. You have to be psychologically minded and be able to find the frame so that the person feels comfortable and the photo is nice. Technique is secondary for me. You just have to know it and adapt depending on the situation. It's just logical - and therefore quite simple.

What are your current or upcoming projects?

My biggest upcoming project is a film that I’m shooting soon. This film offers a visual and audible  journey inside my old family home, which is now abandoned. It’s set in a little village in Russia. The house is the main (and only) character in the film, it is a living being, with a soul, character and memory.

Walking through the physical space of the house, also takes us on a journey through time. Thanks to the audio, which plays a key role, we will be immersed in the time and space of the house and uncover stories that span over a century. Every stop on the way is a point in a layer of memory, which retains more emotions than facts. By addressing my own memories, stories of relatives, historical facts and archives, I want to recreate the image of the house, as it is presented, as a Russian soul. I believe this is the most important project personally that I have done up until now.

Kira Vygrivach - Summer City Dreams

 Summer City Dreams © Kira Vygrivach


“ Immersed in the visible by his body, itself visible, the see-er does not appropriate what he sees; he merely approaches it by looking, he opens onto the world. [...] I say of a thing that it is moved; but my body moves itself; my movement is self-moved…”

(Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Eye and Mind, Gallimard, 1960)

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