Words by Lauren Heinz
Photography by Tatiana Gulenkina
Slowly melting slabs of ice are the physical subjects of Tatiana Gulenkina’s project titled Six Hours, a reference to the amount of time it took her to take one photograph. The colours and textures of the images represent more than just photographic experiments, however, but exist as a comment on the constant push and pull between humans and nature. The inherent meditative quality to the work, inspired by the minimalism of Japanese haikus and landscape paintings, masks a deeper, underlying urgency.
Gulenkina has always been fascinated by environmental concerns and was inspired to explore this photographically after a few trips to different parts of the world, one of them to Solovetsky Islands in Russia, the photographer’s home country. “The islands are about 160km shy of the Arctic Circle, yet 2013 was unusually warm, especially during the summer season. It was perfectly comfortable to wear a t-shirt all day, and even swim. Despite this overall perception of Russia being frigid, nowadays it’s not a big surprise to have rain instead of snow during New Year’s in Moscow. Another time, when I was in the mountains of Northern Montenegro, a guide was complaining about small lakes, which are usually replenished by melting ice from the taller peaks, drying up significantly. And I get a call from my friend in LA every time it rains there since for her it’s almost a miracle.”
“While my observations might look not that extreme and even naive in light of all climate change data collected over the years, I believe that often one needs to witness some changes, however small they are, first-hand in order to truly relate to the issue and do something about it. That’s why I’d rather talk to other people about what their current perceptions of their environment on a day-to-day basis are than cite statistics.”
“While my observations might look not that extreme and even naive in light of all climate change data collected over the years, I believe that often one needs to witness some changes, however small they are, first-hand in order to truly relate to the issue and do something about it.”
The trip to Russia was the starting point of Six Hours but the actual process did not begin until she was back in her studio in Washington, DC. “I began to think how I could approach the topic visually. I was fixated on ice and glaciers and environmental problems but I didn’t want to photograph something very literal. In big cities like New York or DC there are all these canals that have contaminated water that makes them look very surreal when frozen. I took samples from there, as well as other local bodies of water, into my studio since I could stay for as long as I wanted, to let them melt over a few hours, and that would be captured in one image.” The 28 images that make up the final project are the result of either long or multiple exposures.
Along with drawing inspiration from Japanese poetry and painting – “I like the harmonious perspective they have; the concept that nature is an integral part of human existence. Our society is unfortunately more about self-destruction” – Gulenkina’s work has a technical aspect to it that is influenced by her scientific background. Both of her parents are molecular biologists and Gulenkina spent a period of time studying IT in college before switching to Fine Arts: “I am fascinated by the growing interest in STEM and the spirit of discovery that it sparks, and how it can be combined with other disciplines such as visual arts.”
“I like the harmonious perspective [haikus] have; the concept that nature is an integral part of human existence. Our society is unfortunately more about self-destruction.”
Gulenkina’s curiosity has led her to focus on other big issues, such as eating disorders and research into the universe’s matter, but her approach always shies away from the explicit. “I love photojournalism and documentary photography but it’s not the style I personally gravitate towards. For me, every project is a challenge of merging the process and form with a concept, so there is always repetition, doing the same thing over and over again, like meditation, or healing, or conducting a series of experiments. It’s all a balance.”
Tatiana Gulenkina is a Russian-born photographer and visual artist. She graduated from the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in 2011, and since then has been pursuing a career in fine arts. She employs both digital technology and traditional darkroom equipment, as well as video and mixed media. Her work was featured in the British Journal of Photography, Harper’s Magazine, The Week, Wired, Juxtapoz Magazine, The Calvert Journal, The Photo Review, F-Stop Magazine, NPR, Beautiful/Decay, Conscientious, and other publications. In 2014, she was named one of the 30 Under 30 Women Photographers by Photo Boîte Agency and 30 Photographers Under 30 to Watch by Complex Magazine.
nineteensixtyeight presents a selection of 14 images from the series Six Hours, available to buy in our shop.