I made this project together with a photographer Mike Ross, a person whom I didn’t know before the project was started.
I usually thank a lot of people when I finish a project but here the only person I have to thank is Mike. Thank you so much for taking part, sharing your thoughts and images, an opportunity to be heard, an inspiration and of course for text editing. Without you this project wouldn’t be possible.
Alena: When the idea for this project first came to me I was inspired by music. I’ve dealt with music for several years even though I’m not a professional musician and just played in some bands. In my opinion, music is a collective art form and photography is really very individual.
When you make music it’s a rather ordinary thing that you need someone else to play with or to create it with you. When you’re a photographer you just act on your own. I wondered if it was possible to make something like a jam session in music but with photography.
At first you have almost no idea what it will be like in the end or what kind of result you will get, but you start acting. Like saying a phrase and having someone answer it, and you continue and so on.
I tried to start this project several times with others but I don’t think they were all collective people; they liked to work on their own and then I met Mike. When we started the project I didn’t know anything about him at all, and when we finished the project I started to feel like we were old friends and that we had made something whole. It was really like a jam session that turned out to be an interesting piece of music.
Our project consisted of three parts. The first part is the start of a communication. For me it was like: “Oh there is someone near me!” When I make a photo someone answers it with something I couldn’t ever imagine. When I see an answer I start to think about it and then I immediately have another idea. These new images that come into my head are interesting and unusual even for me.
The first part ends with a photo called Open door by Mike and I remember when we were at this part of the project I felt like I had no idea what to do after that. Then Mike said that he would make one more image and he made a self-portrait in a mirror.
We started the second part of the project in which we shared some of our experiences. This part was more personal and maybe the hardest because it turned out that we both had many bad things happen in our lives.
This part ended with my photo and then Mike said he was sort of out of ideas and thought that were starting to make something pessimistic. I agreed and we started the third part with a theme I would call «looking forward».
Now when I look on the whole project I completely understand that there are none of my photos or photos of Mike’s. There’s something whole and our photos don’t live on their own and really speak with each other.
For me it was great experience and I’m very thankful for Mike because he appeared suddenly in my life and in this project. This project was made by two people with different ways of seeing, different techniques, different countries, different cultures, different ages and different sex. For me as for photographer it was really an amazing collaboration.
Mike: When I first saw Alena’s post about doing a photo project I was intrigued. I wrote her to ask if I could be a part of it. I had no idea what to expect but working with someone I had never met and who lived thousands of miles away was exciting. I had no preconceived ideas but was open to whatever she had in mind.
Now that the project is complete, I see that people are basically the same everywhere. They have the same hopes and fears and try to express themselves in one way or another. We both chose photography while others might choose different forms of art or even a career like teaching or psychotherapy.
Alena: I chose Jenga cubes for this composition because I discovered them near my front door on the eve of our first communication and I thought it was a great beginning.
Mike: I felt I should show Alena who she was working with and made a self-portrait with added noise. I told her it represented the noise I hear in my head all day long. I knew she works as a therapist and was very interested to see what she thought about that.
Everything in heaven is quiet, rubber-soled shoes
Alena: Mike wrote that he’s heard noise in his head all his life and I thought it was awful, so I wanted to calm down this noise. My photo should have been silent and a phrase from the book Fight club and this image came to me.
Mike: My second reply was a shot of a horse looking down at a young girl and her hand reached up as if they were just becoming friends. I felt that this was exactly what we were doing with our project.
Alena: This horse shot was so warm and I felt it was a beautifully caught moment, so I had just one way to answer, to catch a moment of a light in my room, which was a reflection of the sunset in the windows of a building next to the house where I lived.
Come on in
Mike: My reply was a set of hotel doors with all kinds of friendly greetings written in white. Alena’s photo was titled Carpe Diem which I thought was perfect and the phrases on the doors seemed to be like an encouragement to seize the day as well. It also reminded me of a book by one of my favorite authors Charles Bukowski called Come on In.
Someone’s at home
Alena: When I read the title «Come on in» I had no associations except with the word «door». We had just moved to another flat and I looked at everything in there with a fresh eye. I liked this group of rays come from a slightly ajar door.
At the door…
Mike: I replied with a shot of me standing in front of a door early in the morning and the light was beautiful. This was from a photo taken a couple of years ago when I had a full head of hair. I cropped out a mirror on the side because it showed a bit of my gut since I forgot to hold in my stomach.
Self-portrait in a mirror
Mike: I made a self-portrait in a broken mirror opposite a farm house. This mirror has been broken for years; I don’t know why no one ever fixed it. I tried to make this shot as abstract as possible to leave the meaning of it up in the air.
Alena: I made this shot spontaneously, something I rarely do. Mike’s selfie (because of the broken mirror) reminded me about some periods of my life connected with death and dying. These flies were locked in, they could see the light and life through the window but it was out of reach. At one time I felt myself as these flies.
Mike: In reply I sent a photo of a horse wearing a mask. For years I saw these horse masks and thought they were blinders but the horses were walking around just fine. I told Alena she could get one for herself and the flies will never bother her again. I took this a while ago and remembered that I had it. I love the way his fly mask is old and torn, he probably hates it.
What you see
Alena: I had an idea that people can see something in me about themselves, dark or light parts. Sometimes their projections hurt me like pieces of broken glass. I could not get rid of the blinders association.
Mike: In reply I recreated the horse fly mask look by wearing a hood and sunglasses covered with several years of dust. It was a statement of how I sometimes hide from the world.
Is someone out there?
Alena: Mike’s photo reminded me the worst episode of depression that I’ve ever had. I had terrible insomnia and something like hallucinations. I would hear a telephone ringing or a door bell ringing but there was no one there. When I sat by my computer I had a lamp on my left and when the door was opened I saw what looked like someone entering the room, although of course no one did.
In search of light
Alena: Mike said we are pessimists and we should think about happier things so I decided to look forward. This is an ordinary association about light at the end of the tunnel. But I’ve learned that light doesn’t just appear, or even if it does you may not be ready to see it so the only way to let light into your life is to be aware that the light is in your own hands.
Mike: I found a very dirty and scratched truck which reflected and beautifully distorted my image. Alena’s photo of her holding a light made me think about the way we see things, that everything is blurred by our thoughts about what we see and not what is really right in front of us so I tried to show that with this image.
Alena: These scratches looked to my eyes as if the photo was made through the snow, and snow for me is always connected with renewal. I thought that a completely white square would be too abstract, so I continued thinking about it. I was washing my face at this moment and when I looked in the mirror and I got the idea for this photo.
Inside the mind of Mike Ross
Mike: Since Alena is so fond of still life photography I decided to create one of my own showing my absurd attention to detail, or OCD as I call it. I had to explain that this photo did not have a negative connotation but that it was about me laughing at my own obsession.
Alena: Mike’s composition was kind of ironic and I thought that an ability to laugh at yourself is a kind of healthy thing and it frees. Although I didn’t know it at the time this was to be my last image for our project.
The Best Medicine
Mike: After discovering that Alena loves goats I started taking photos of them just for fun. This time I got very lucky and caught a small goat with a big smile. I felt this was a great way to end our project, for now.
To be continued.