Knowing the language of photography means being able to render sounds, smells, tastes, space, weight, state, feelings and thoughts as vision. This is what Dmitry Bulkin, the Riga, London and now Berlin-based photographer, thinks. Last summer he moved to Berlin, bringing along with him his School of Art and Creative Photography.
The classes in this school are very different from the photography lessons we are used to. “We have a goal and we are trying to attain it in different ways – so we both learn new subjects and analyze our work, we paint and sculpt and listen to music or remain silent and write…”, says the teacher-photographer.
“For example, on Sunday’s workshop we learned a really important skill – proximal and distal focus. We were standing in the center of Potsdamer Platz, paying detailed attention to all that lay around us. By developing your attention skills you start noticing many things you hadn’t noticed before. For a photographer it is the number one skill. This also applies to other creative areas – everything we see accelerates and accentuates our creativity”.
I ask him to name some other characteristics which are important for a good photographer.
“Emotions. Again, not just a photographer but any creative person has to be able to feel emotion about things, but in a good way: compassion, joy, empathy. If neither a process nor its result contains emotions, the photography itself has no value. You have to notice things, process them internally, digest them, understand them and convert them into a creative product. A photo, for example”.
Dmitry thinks any admission tests for the students-to-be would be a bad idea. It’s weird to test a person for a skill you actually plan to develop. The only characteristics beginners really need are motivation and determination.
The study course normally lasts for a year. The classes last for 2 – 4 hours but sometimes a group continues for longer. During the first month each participant has enough time to understand if this way of studying suits him or her. Not everyone is ready for such non-standard methods.
The number of participants in each group never goes beyond eight because creative subjects require the teacher to work with each student on a deeply personal level. A small group makes it possible to listen to every student and understand their problems or breakthroughs.
There are no ‘graduates’ in this unusual school. Finishing a year of studying photography is just the beginning for the students, not the end.
“We all stick together. We stay in touch and do some projects together. For example, my students in Riga have regular meetings, travel together, publish joint picture sets and arrange so-called ‘photo dryings’. These are a kind of impromptu exhibition in a park where everyone can hang works on ropes”.
Dmitry Bulkin says he likes to start over , to move to a new city and meet new people, not knowing what is around the next corner.
“I can’t say I adapt easily but one thing I know for sure: I enjoy the very process of adaptation. This is why I stretch it out for as long as possible”.
That, obviously, raises the question of how it is possible to run a school with this kind of lifestyle?
“I’m actually not a business man at all; neither do I strategically plan things. Sometimes people ask me if I research the number of potential students, the expenses and my potential income before moving to a new city? I answer – No, I don’t because it doesn’t change anything. I don’t open a school to have a good business: I do it just to run the course once more with new people. The question is, will it come out better or worse? But I still keep doing it”.
It is always interesting to ask a professional about down-to-earth things. Does the founder of a photography school take selfies, like everyone else?
“I don’t really like selfies and not because everyone takes them. People used to take pictures of themselves before, too. The selfie is different because it’s not about taking photos as mementos. Before now people took pictures of their friends or relatives involved in some process, say, gardening. Or people travel and someone takes a picture of someone else climbing up a mountain.
But in taking selfies people don’t document the process they’re in the middle of with some emotions. They take pictures of themselves using a process merely as fake set. Always emotionally the same ‘self’ with some process in the background. It’s a simulation of a process, not the process itself. This is why there are as many pictures as before, but their content doesn’t express what they were made for”.
Having been in Berlin since June, Dmitry Bulkin yet to take a single picture. “To take a picture, I have to understand and to feel what, why and how to do this”, he explains. Before pressing the button he looks closely, moves back and forth, leaves and returns. It causes a lot of raised eyebrows from people who are used to living at a fast pace. He deals with it by joking that he’s a slow Baltic guy, a typical Riga citizen. But all kidding aside, even the most beautiful photos of the finest quality are worthless if they don’t have any meaning or emotions to them.
Adapted from the interview broadcast on Frankhaus Europa radio, conducted by Ksenia Maksimova, September 1st, 2015.