Sociologist’s Photographs From Around the World on Display at HSE
Social scientist, Assistant Professor at the School of Political Science in HSE Faculty of Social Sciences, Michael Rochlitz uses photography as a way of looking at people in contrast to studying them at his desk. An exhibition of his photographs taken in many different countries including North Korea opened on December 10 on the 4th Floor (British 3rd) at 9/11 Myasnitskaya Ulitsa.
— What is it that makes photography so attractive?
— It's a way of getting in touch with and documenting "real life" in the contexts we study as social scientists. I very much enjoy grabbing my camera and just walking for a day through a new city, be it in China, Russia or elsewhere. To see the people on the streets and in the markets, how they trade, talk, eat, play and smile. We always spend too much time on our desks behind computers, and not enough time with "boots on the ground".
— How do you choose items and subjects?
— I just walk around more or less aimlessly, with items and subjects emerging along the way. Sometimes you manage to take a picture of a beautiful moment, sometimes the moment has already passed once the camera is ready. I usually don't wait for a specific scene to happen or spend much time on the composition of a particular picture.
— It seems that you like doing portraits. What's your approach? Do you prefer to agree with a person on taking his or her photo or do you like to do it spontaneously, finding a right moment and unusual angle?
— I usually take pictures spontaneously. If you want to capture a particular moment, there is often no time to ask a person if it is ok to take a picture beforehand. It happens very rarely that people are not happy when I take their picture, then I usually erase it and apologize, also because you will always have a bad feeling about this particular picture in the future. But often people are also very happy to have their portrait taken, which then can result in very beautiful pictures. Especially in China or the Middle East, when people see you walking around with a camera, they beckon you to them, put on a big smile and want to be photographed. Besides, I usually walk through streets and districts where normally very few if any foreigners or tourists pass by, which also helps. In such places people are almost always very friendly and hospitable, smile at you when you take their picture and then invite you for a cup of tea. For example, last January I had some amazing discussions about Egyptian politics while walking through the slums of Cairo.
— Could you please tell the story of the photo you hold most dear. How and where was it taken?
— My favourite photo is a picture of a girl in the metro of Pyongyang. It was in the middle of a happy crowd inside a metro carriage between two stations, and I just took a random photo. Only much later did I realize that it had become a beautiful picture.
— It's well known that filming in North Korea is a very difficult and sensitive subject. How did you do it there?
— We were on an organized trip, and actually taking pictures was not that difficult. Only relatively rarely did our guides tell us not to take pictures of something. However, when leaving the country, a strict lady from the border police went through all 3000 pictures on my camera and erased about 2/3 of them. Fortunately I had several copies of my pictures hidden on USB keys in my luggage and on my computer, so I managed to get the pictures out nevertheless.
— Have you taken a lot of photos in Moscow? Can we expect an exhibition of your pictures from Russia?
— Of course, I have quite a large collection of pictures from both Moscow and Russia's regions, and am constantly taking new ones. I also just bought a new camera. I would be happy to exhibit them at some point in the future.
Prepared by Anna Chernyakhovskaya