by Natalya Reznik

Where are you from? I know that you are from Russia and currently based in Zurich, but where were you born in Russia? How did you happen to move to Zurich?

I’m from Rostov-on-Don. It’s a city in the South of the European part of Russia, about 1000 km from Moscow. I grew up there, and my husband grew up there, and we never lived anywhere else. But in 2011 my husband got an offer to work for Google and we moved to Zürich, Switzerland, where we still live today. The whole move-to-a-different-country thing was a big change and also a big challenge, not only for me and my husband, but also for our parents and friends. But it was also very exciting, a once-in-a-lifetime adventure kind of thing.

What did you study? Where and when did you study photography? Most of Russian photographers of “the new wave”, if I may to define it like this, studied photography in Rodchenko Art School in Moscow and/or in Fotodepartament Foundation in St-Petersburg. As far as I know, youdidn’t study neither in Moscow nor in St-Petersburg. Tell us about your path to the contemporary photography and photo book’ making!

I studied applied mathematics and computer science in Rostov State University. I got an MD, and would probably go into an academic career and pursue a PhD, but then, we moved abroad. And in Switzerland, there’s a law that if you move in as a partner of somebody who got a job, then you yourself can’t work for two years. So I had two years of this limbo state, where I could pretty much do anything I wanted, except for working.
So I got deeper into photography. I wasn’t a total newbie: back in Rostov both me and my husband were part of a small photographic community. Like, we shot graduation photos for my university group, and were experimenting with studio portraits and this sort of stuff.
When we moved to Zürich and I started doing more photography, we had this revelation moment: in Europe there are dozens of workshops by big photographers, and they happen literally every week. So I found the closest one and went there. And that’s how I got to Alex Majoli’s masterclass. I didn’t know anything about Alex, except for the fact that he’s a Magnum photographer. And my husband is a big fan of Robert Capa, who founded Magnum, so I figured, it had to be a good choice. And meeting Alex, basically, changed my life. It changed what I do, my attitude towards what I do, my attitude towards photography, art, philosophy - everything.
Alex didn’t “teach” us, and the masterclass wasn’t focused on contemporary photography. It was more about finding and understanding your own obsession. Our works were meant to be natural manifestations, so to speak, of ourselves, of what we wanted. Masterclass consisted of two week-long sessions. First session was a kind of “reset your brain” session. Besides other things during the first week I got to know works of Sophie Calle, Luigi Ghirri, Paul Graham, Bernd and Hilla Becher and other great artists that I knew nothing about.
Then we were working and shooting for one year. And after that, during the second week we were editing everything together into a photobook. Alex’s idea was that the natural result of any photographic work is a photo-book. That’s, basically, how I got into the photobooks world, and learned about it.
As for Moscow and St. Petersburg schools and Russian photographic “new wave” - I only learned about them when I started meeting other Russian photographers in places like Kassel, or Amsterdam.

© Olga Bushkova from the series 'A Google Wife' 

Who are the photographers, writers and film directors that inspire you the most?

I and my husband have annual passes for Winterthur Fotomuseum - an amazing place, just 30 minutes drive from where we live. We go there, like, every two weeks. Exhibitions there and the way they are presented and curated, really resonate with me. I do get a lot of inspiration from going to this place. From the top of my head: I visited exhibitions by Jungjin Lee, Yann Mingard, Viviane Sassen, Peter Piller, Taiyo Onorato & Nico Krebs, Barbara Davatz, Meinrad Schade, Paul Graham. And there were many others.
And as for films, I must say, I also pretty much rely on chance. Every September there’s a Zurich Film Festival in Zürich. It’s an international film festival with a very strong programming and a great documentary section. It was Zürich FIlm Festival that introduced us to the contemporary documentary cinema, that’s very much focused on a protagonist and somewhat blurs the line between fiction and documentary. It was enormously inspiring both for me and my husband. He got so excited about it that he went to study in Marina Razbezhkina’s and Mikhail Ugarov’s documentary film school in Moscow and, basically, became a documentary director.
As for books, as stereotypical as it may sound, I got really deep into Russian classics after Alex Majoli masterclass. He was always saying «Ah, you’re Russian, you read Dostoyevsky, you understand». And I was like: «Um… I haven’t». So I had a big impulse to actually sit and read Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy and Kuprin and Chekhov and other renowned Russian writers. And that was great.

Tell us about your approach to photography. How would you describe it in general? 

I don’t have a well-defined approach, rather a set of practices that it seems that I tend to follow. Like, I never had something that could be called “an idea of a project”. And I didn’t do stories about something or somebody. Up until now, the only thing that worked for me is to do things in photography that are somehow connected with me, things that somehow solve real issues in my real life. Like, to convince my husband to have children, or to establish myself as a person in a new country. I’m not sure if it’s going to continue like this, but this is how photography works for me now.

How did you come up with the idea of making a photo book 'A Google Wife, which was shortlisted for Unseen this year? How did you work on the photos technically? What technologies did you use while making your dummy? Was it important for your message (according to M. McLuhan “the medium is the message”)?

The idea was suggested by Alex Majoli during his masterclass. We had a conversation and Alex noted that I was afraid of calling myself a “photographer”. So he said: “Look, you’ve just moved to a new country with your husband. He’s working for Google, you are part of this community of wives of your husband’s colleagues. Introduce yourself as a photographer to this community. Every time you meet them, put a tripod and take pictures”. That was the starting point.  Then I was taking pictures for 1,5 years. Literally, every time I met other “Google wives”, I took pictures. My camera was standing on a tripod somewhere, and I was using remote control to trigger the shutter. So I’m present on every picture, and all these pictures are pretty much about my life in these 1,5 years. 
Then I did the first edit with Alex Majoli and Daria Birang. Daria is an artist and a photo editor and she is absolutely amazing.
So after roughly two years I had a kind of a book dummy printed on an office laser printer with duck tape used for binding. It didn’t look like a proper book at all, but for some reason I wasn’t too worried. I guess, I needed time for it to settle a bit, so that I could truly believe in this book.


© Olga Bushkova from the series 'A Google Wife' 

And then one day my husband told me: «You know, I saw a bookbinding shop today, do you want to ask them if they can bind your book?» And then my friend, the architect, said: «You know, if you print on yellowish paper, it looks better». And then another friend of mine recommended me an affordable printing shop in Zürich Technical University, ETH. So, I kind of had all the components ready. So I bought lots of yellowish paper, went to ETH to print the pictures and bound them in the binding shop that my husband found. And then next day I sent the book to the Unseen competition.
As for the “media is the message”... I don’t really think in these terms. I never thought about my work as about something with a message. The whole process of making it was a process of exploration, and then in the end I got something, I’ve understood something, and then I needed some time to believe in this something, to see and feel that it’s good. And the reason it’s a book and not something else is because Alex Majoli’s masterclass was very much focused on photobooks, and so I was making one. I knew from the beginning: it’s going to be a photobook, that’s it. I didn’t really consider any other media. And making a photobook turned out to be a very interesting process. I learned a lot, I’m still learning a lot about it, and I met a lot of very interesting people along the way.

© Olga Bushkova from the series 'A Google Wife' 

I remember that you’ve shown your projects a couple of years ago at the portfolio-review in Kassel (Germany) and got some advice from German publishers such as Klaus Kehrer and Hannes Wanderer. Was it helpful for you? Did you improve your dummy(s) in accordance with their suggestions?

Yes, I got some really good advice in Kassel and then I didn’t follow any of them. Pretty much the only things that have changed between Kassel and Unseen is that I used different paper, improved the printing quality and found a proper binding shop.
Ah, and the title has changed. In Kassel the book was called just 'Google Wife' and many people thought that “Google” is a verb. So I renamed the book to 'A Google Wife' to avoid the confusion. That was probably the biggest change I made inside the book itself.
I mean, for sure, I was tweaking the editing here and there all the time, but in terms of content, the book I sent to Unseen is very similar to what I presented in Kassel. However, Unseen version looked like a real book and was very nicely done, whereas Kassel version looked like it was hand-made by somebody who maybe didn’t fully understand what he was doing.
Still, Kassel portfolio-review was very important for me to come out with my work. It was the first time I publicly showed it. When you show your work publicly for the first time, it’s not about feedback really, but about experiencing this moment, about gaining confidence in your work. It was for sure important for me to start talking with people about this work. And then I got a lot of advice, and some advice were pretty much opposite to other. But I was so nervous that I anyway focused more on the experience of showing the book around, rather on the feedback I got. The experience was very important.

© Olga Bushkova from the series 'A Google Wife' 

Another book project of yours 'How I tried to convince my husband to have children' was selected this year for Slideluck Gazebook Festival (Italy) through the Open Call. What the project consists of (your archive family photos, found photos, your diary pages, what else?) The project seems quite funny, but at the same time is very personal. Do you consider it as a kind of therapy for you/your husband/your relationships? I know that the book project is meant to be very important for your family life and the very production of it also had to convince your husband to have children, am I right?

No, no, it definitely has nothing to do with therapy. It was very practical. Thing is, I got married when I was 20, and I basically wanted to have children since then. But my husband has this very strong opinion that I have to achieve something professionally before becoming a mother. So we had an agreement: I’m going to make a photobook about convincing him to have kids. And when the book is ready, he stops talking about professional development and I stop taking contraceptive pills. Almost like a contract, really. This idea, by the way, was also suggested by Alex Majoli during the first week of his masterclass. I’m not exaggerating when I say that the masterclass has changed my life.
The 'How I tried to convince my husband to have children' book documents my 3-years-long efforts of convincing my husband to have children. It has a mix of different things inside it. I used my diary notes, pictures of other people’s kids, pictures from my husband’s family album, and other things as well. In the end the book turned out to be a kind of a dialogue between irrational desire to have children (me) and rational arguments for not having them (my husband).
And I mean, huge part of the book is literally a dialogue. I was recording our conversations about children and parenthood (and we were talking about it almost every day), then I transcribed them and used them in the book. The book turned out to be sometimes funny, sometimes naive, sometimes sad, but definitely very personal. After the book was more or less ready, I thought: oh, it seems like I don’t have any issue whatsoever with talking about personal and intimate things. Seems like I just have no problems with sharing them.


© Olga Bushkova from the series 'How I tried to convince my husband to have children'

When and where can one see the physical copies of your photo book dummies? I am very curious about them. At least, I would like to see the video recordings. Is it planned to produce a print run of the photo books and sell them?

“A Google Wife” book dummy was selected for Unseen in Amsterdam, meaning that it will participate in a number of photo book festivals in Europe. There’s a video preview of it - (click here). But my primary goal at the moment is to find a publisher for this book and actually publish it as a book. I do want it to be properly published. So if any publisher reads this interview, please please write me an email... 
As for “How I tried to convince my husband to have children” book, I got an offer from Irina Popova, who manages a small independent publishing house Dostoevsky Publishing. At the moment I’m working with a designer to convert the dummy I have into a proper book. I hope the book to be published in the beginning of next year. There’s a “trailer” for this book that I did for the Gazebook festival in Sicily: (click here)
And, last but not least, if somebody is interested in buying one of these books when they get published, don’t hesitate and send me an email. I will be very happy.


© Olga Bushkova from the series 'How I tried to convince my husband to have children'

Olga Bushkova 
Fotodepartament Foundation in St-Petersburg
Rodchenko Art School in Moscow
urbanautica Russia