What’s the difference between a Northern fairytale and a Southern one? A Northern fairytale begins with “Once upon a time…” The Southern fairytale begins with “Y’all ain’t gonna believe this shit!”
January 27, 1972 I was born in Moscow, USSR. The first five years went rather normal – you know, blending in, pretending to be from this planet, discovering that electricity bites, splinters hurt and dirt tastes nothing like chocolate. It all changed one sunny day when I received my first camera as a birthday gift. It stated “Scale focus” on the box, but grandpa misread it as a “School focus” and decided that it would be the most appropriate preschool gift. That has changed my entire life.
The same year we took that camera on a vacation. None of my family members knew anything about photography, so instead of getting sunburned I spent most of that vacation in a local library. Next thing I knew, I felt very comfortable with this manual-everything, no meter camera, shooting slide film. Not bad for a 5 year old boy.
Back in Moscow, film was developed, and behold! – most of the frames were exposed properly, sharp and had a surprisingly decent composition. The only “badly” composed photos from that vacation had one thing in common: teeny-weeny me in the middle of the frame. Thanks mom!
Next year I went to summer camp (a “Young Pioneer camp” as they used to call it in USSR). That particular one happened to have its own photo lab – rare thing for the Soviet summer camp in 1978. It took me about a month to learn how to develop film and work with an enlarger. Two months later, Sergey Vasilievich Ivanov, head of the lab, gave me full access and my own set of keys.
I started to spend my nights in the lab, unsupervised. By the end of the season I had red eyes, tic and a newspaper. Yep, the camp had its very own newspaper, now illustrated with my photographs. Unheard of back in those days!
…Same place, the following summer. A photojournalist from the Moscow newspaper came to our camp to shoot a story. He used a very cool medium format camera and looked extremely professional. He seemed very old and experienced, 18 or maybe even 20 years old. But he vanished without delivering his story to the paper, and to this day I have no idea what happened. Nevertheless, the paper still needed photos, and there was no one to replace this guy, so guess what? They hired a 7 year old to shoot the news story. So yeah, if you ask when I started photographing professionally, the answer may surprise you.
Let’s fast forward 15 years, skipping some irrelevant details like school, college, military service and other stuff of great insignificance. By mid 90s, my CV included work experience as a bodyguard team leader, system administrator at the nuclear facility, private investigator, software engineer and… photographer, of course. In 95 I was a contributing editor and staff photographer in a weekly newspaper in Moscow, part time photographer for a few local magazines and international news agencies. At the same time I was the only moderator of RU.PHOTO, photography themed “echo” group on Fidonet (pre-Internet) network serving some 30,000+ members.
Then it finally clicked: photography is my vocation. No more denial, we were meant for each other.
Few years later I grew bitterly tired of being a news photojournalist. Bread and butter of the news industry are made of blood and tears, wars and disasters. I’ve seen plenty, and I couldn’t stomach that bread anymore. Luckily, by that time a friend asked me to photograph her wedding. The results were nothing like the “traditional” wedding photography and referrals spread like wildfires… That was before the term “wedding photojournalism” was coined and became a fad. Ever since, I have enjoyed the bread, butter and meatballs of wedding and mitzvah photography – and I love it because it’s made of joy and happiness.
That’s how I got started in event and portrait photography. There’s more. For example – how I’ve immigrated to the States with my camera, a cubic meter worth of books and five bucks of cash. How I’ve built my business on US soil from the ground up to become a premier Wedding and Mitzvah photographer in Atlanta. How I was among the pioneers of FPV drones or flying cameras. How I went to Russia on a short family related trip in late 2009 and ended up stuck in Eastern Europe for six years. How I met my lovely wife and grew a yeard.
…But that’s a story for another day.