Interview with: Sofya Danilova

March 2021

Sofya Danilova has over 15 years of experience in shooting and editing pictures. She is proficient in a wide range of styles — from photo manipulations and art photography to commercial photo shoots.
After a decade of constant work, Sofya got to the point where two-dimensional photography was just not enough to express everything she wanted to. As a seasoned photographer, she experimented with frame dynamics and volume, tried a hand in different styles, but in the end, decided not to limit herself by just two dimensions, bending them to create more space in her art.
And so, to pass across more complex feelings, Sofya started to create kaleidoscopes — images that can achieve the effect of space's enclosure and deeper immersion in the picture.

Welcome, Sofya. I would like to start this interview from the beginning of your creative path. Do you remember which artist or which artwork touched you deeply when you were a child?

In my student years, I was most impressed by the work of Hans Rudolf Giger. Last year I finally managed to visit the exhibition of his works in Kyiv (after I missed it in Moscow a few years ago). And I still think that this is the best aesthetic experience that  has  happened in my life. Giger`s works embody a story about technological progress seamlessly blending with organic evolution, imbued with endless eroticism as extreme manifestations of vitality.

 


And then? How has your approach to art changed when growing up?


I started create my own art as an adult, when – it’s a bit strange to say that, but it’s true – I could already afford it. It was after I changed country of residence, field of activity, and social circle, and also went through many hardships in my personal life. Freedom of self-expression came to me at a time when I was able to devote a significant part of my life to it, without sacrificing the rest of my activities. I got there with a decent baggage of life experience.
Therefore, what I am creating now could not emerge from my creative endeavors before. I can fill my pictures with meaning primarily because I have something to say, and I have something to say only because I was able to process all of the experience that has already happened to me.

 

How would you describe your practice to someone who doesn`t know you? What are the recurring elements, themes, concepts you refer to?

I call my artwork “kaleidoscopes” because I take original images and create of it something new after introducing symmetry to it. What exactly is emerging from that depends on the picture. I first started making kaleidoscopes after going to the psychedelic abstract art festival. Among many works, I saw there an installation of neon threads stretched between trees. They were
ordinary wool threads of a certain color that glowed in the ultraviolet. While they lay on the ground, they were not impressive at all; but after they were combined in a preconceived pattern, the strings and the ultraviolet light made space a low-polygonal (low-detail, emphatically minimalist) matrix.

I was looking at their pattern and internally debated with myself: how a photograph could adequately convey a sense of this space, which immerses the viewer in itself?

When I began to edit pictures from the festival, I tried to achieve the same effect of immersion in the picture, of completeness, of wholeness. But an ordinary photo was not enough for that. So I started experimenting with form and realized that nothing is as immersive as symmetry. That`s why most of my work deals with central symmetry: it`s the most complete system possible.

 


Nowadays it is estimated that more than 300 000 000 images are published every day only on Instagram.

The spread of social networks and smartphones has led to overexposure of often identical and trivial images. What do you think about it and how you as a photographer relate to the problem?

The more pictures, the more choice there is for what you can look at. I don’t think I have to compete with every picture on Instagram. If that was the case, galleries would have lost their purpose for existence, and complex art would be replaced by moodboards.
If someone likes pictures on Instagram better than more sophisticated art, they has every right to enjoy it and doesn’t need to make excuses for it; it`s their choice. Each artwork is defined by the life experience of the person who is looking at it, and the experience of the viewer is just as important as the experience of the artist.

 


Usually each artist has a different modus operandi. What is yours? How did your projects start and how do they develop?

If you meant the process of creating an artwork, then it always begins with the original image: whether I’m browsing photo stocks, shooting my own images or create them in cooperation with someone else — there is always a primary stage of image selection, which later will became a kaleidoscope or something else that I am working on.
There are no clearly defined principles by which I select pictures; I just try to estimate what would be interesting for me to work with. This first stage is passed if I look at something and think: oh, this picture will become something interesting, this picture will be interesting to work with. And all the rest is a creational process that has no some strong borders in time, processes and everything. For some pictures I even print some elements on paper, cut them and then scan back to digital.

 


We are at the end of this short interview. Would you like to add something about your research and your art that has not emerged previously?

My artwork can be divided into several large groups. The first group is study of geometry and all forms existing in Euclidean space.
The second is dedicated to shapes and objects that are hidden in the original images, but can reveal themselves due to symmetry. Without editing, human brains can catch some of that only at the level of intuition, but when you start working with light and angles, you begin to understand what exactly you saw in this picture.
The third is the purposeful creation of new meaning, which was not there initially, in suitable images.
All of this is based on that layer of the brain that process environmental clues too quickly for you to realize what is happening. We often call it “intuition”. It is sum of everything that you have ever seen and heard; all experiences, sensations, and associations,  because of that, when you look at two similar pictures, you actually understand in a matter of seconds which one you like best. If you carefully analyze these feelings further, you maybe can understand and explain in words why is that, but initially explanation isn’t there. You just know. So I’m trying to distillate hidden shapes of universe to the absolute. And when you already made
it you can’t get away from it. You have to live with it. I’m interested in exploring that feeling of final clarity.