It’s Magic – A Conversation with Synchrodogs
It is an image I keep returning to. A young woman, naked and entirely wrapped in plastic, posing against a backdrop of green foliage. Her eyes are closed, her body passive. The plastic is entangled in the branches, the grass, the leaves. I look at the photograph and I have to think of Twin Peaks. “Who killed Laura Palmer?” echoes through my mind. Her posture also conjures up another image from art history, a painting of Eve accepting the apple from the snake nestled above her in the Tree of Life. That particular image is part of a diptych by German renaissance painter Lucas Cranach The Elder. But I digress.
Back to the picture. It is part of the series Animalism, Naturalism by Ukrainian photographers duo Synchrodogs, consisting of Tania Shcheglova and Roman Noven. I ask whether they can tell me something about this photograph. I hope to get a step-by-step explanation of how they arrived at this image. I hope to find out if they were inspired by other artists, or influenced by other artworks to create this specific picture. Their answer to my question is refreshingly simple and revealing: “It’s magic.” Well. It certainly is that.
In fact, everything about fast-rising stars Synchrodogs seems magic: how they met; how they create pictures; how they managed to make a name for themselves so quickly; how they get commissions for fashion magazines and brands. Here is the tale of how it all happened.
KB: The story of how you met is fairly well-known by now: it happened online on an amateur photography website in 2008. At the time you lived in different cities on opposite sides of the Ukraine, you fell in love with each other and started to collaborate. I am interested in the first phase of your collaboration. Could you tell me something about that?
SD: When we met six to seven years ago, we were just shooting our life. We did not think of doing any specific projects. The way we took photographs was more like keeping a diary.
KB: Indeed, when I look at your diary series, in these photographs you seem to try and get to know each other. At the same time you seem to be exploring photography as a medium. The pictures look honest, raw and sweet at the same time. What was your intention with these images?
SD: Our intention was pure: we wanted to discover the world, to get to know ourselves and our abilities. It also seemed entertaining to not spend any time doing something ordinary.
KB: Your series Internet documentary is a sharp departure from diary. It contains images of mannequins without clothes, pictures of a woman selling clothes on eBay, photographs of wrinkled tablecloths on Russian television, and shots of Barbie dolls with missing limbs. What were you trying to show with these photographs?
SD: This project deals with the ironic things happening on websites where thousands of people interact. The Barbie dolls were all for sale on the Internet. This means somebody needs them and somebody buys them. It is the same thing with the mannequins. All the sellers positioned them in extremely sexy poses, but aren’t they supposed to serve as a tool to sell clothes in the end?
KB: Your next projects hidden luster, girls of Shanghai, synchrodogs and fobia seem to explore nudity and fashion in equal measure. There is also a gradual but noticeable change in photographic style from one series to the next. Whereas the images in girls of Shanghai are fairly straightforward fashion-as-encountered-in-the-street shots, the other series seem to be much more conceptual in approach. Props, lighting, clothing, make-up, posture: it all seems to have been thought out in progressively more detail. Could you tell me more about these series?
SD: Those were the projects that helped to establish us as artists. They deal with experimentation, with the abilities of the human body, with self expression. Synchrodogs is essentially a self portrait, whereas fobia is mostly about the Ukrainian lifestyle that is in our blood.
KB: Speaking of the Ukraine, your series horoscope and Misha Koptev are remarkably different your other series. Horoscope seems almost straightforward photojournalism, whereas Misha Koptev has a whiff of Boris Mikhailov about it. Are you trying to document certain ways of life in your home country here?
SD: We do not try to show the Ukraine from any particular angle, we love it as it is. It is so raw and original to a certain extent. For us, it is truly inspirational, though this source of inspiration rarely works directly, it only influences our subconsciousness.
KB: Talking about inspiration, in one interview you stated that you are not influenced by any other artists, in another interview you mention Viviane Sassen as a source of inspiration. Who or what else inspires you in your work?
SD: We never considered Viviane Sassen as a source of inspiration, but her work surely is one of those remarkable examples of photographic art that is never boring. Another example is Jamie Warren, still another is Cindy Sherman. But inspiration for us takes an entirely different form. We find it in nature, in our dreams at night, it is something unique we find in different cultures when we are travelling. This is what forms our minds.
KB: The model in Animalism, Naturalism finds herself invariably lost in an inhospitable, almost alien landscape, whereas in Reverie sleep both the model as well as the landscape inhabit another universe. Are these series an exploration of liminal areas and experiences such as between dreaming and sleeping, or nature and civilisation?
SD: The project Animalism, Naturalism is an attempt to keep in mind all our basic instincts. We are trying to reach a raw sense of self and to establish an intimate relation with the natural environment around us. It deals with nudity, self-excruciation, surreal foreplay, human nature, primitivism, symbolism, eccentricity, animalism and intuition. Reverie sleep is based on our dreams. The project deals with the stage of Non Rapid Eye Movement sleep, during which some people may experience hallucinations caused by the natural process of falling asleep. Experimenting with those lucid dreaming techniques, we usually woke ourselves up in the middle of the night to make a note of what we had just seen. Afterwards we staged our dreams for the photographs.
KB: You have a huge number of followers online, especially on Facebook and Tumblr. How has your presence on social media contributed to your success as photographers?
SD: An online presence is extremely important in our case as we are from the Ukraine, a country far removed from the rest of the world. It is also culturally developing in its own direction. There is something good about the fact that there are no contemporary art or fashion magazines in Ukrainian shops, and we rarely watch any blogs or magazines online. This helped to develop our personalities without any outside influence. It also helped us to be discovered online afterwards.
KB: You have been commissioned by prominent fashion brands and magazines such as Dazed & Confused, Vice Magazine, Esquire and Urban Outfitters. Do you feel that your commissioned works differs from your personal work? If so, how?
SD: One of the first big commissioned series we shot was for Urban Outfitters’ project Around The World. It was an interesting experience as we realised that brands and magazines do not actually care if we are situated far away or not. So we proceeded with our projects and kept sharing them on our online platforms. Our personal projects differ from all the commissioned ones as they are something we shoot for our soul. We work on them for a long time. They usually deal with the natural environment as this is where we feel truly comfortable and happy. Commissioned work is often inspired by urban lifestyles, where styling is more important than the location.
KB: Are you currently working on any new projects?
SD: We continue to work on our personal series. We also just opened a first major solo exhibition in Venice at the Spazio Punch Gallery. Here we show photos and videos. We also recently started our first charitable project called Crystal Tania. We are making one-of-a-kind necklaces from beads we collected all over the world. The aim is to sell each piece for €77 and spend all the money on charitable purposes. We will also send a ‘thank you’ card to all the buyers saying how their money was spent so that they can be proud of themselves for helping the world.
Synchrodogs consists of Tania Shcheglova and Roman Noven. Their photographs have appeared in magazines such as Dazed & Confused, Esquire, Harper’s Bazaar, Vice and Afisha. Their work has been exhibited worldwide, including at the Spazio Punch Gallery in Venice in 2014, M17 Gallery in Kiev in 2013, White Gloss Gallery in Los Angeles in 2012, the Public Works Gallery in Chicago in 2012. Synchrodogs have also published two books, i.e. Byzantine in 2013 through Editions du lic, and Synchrodogs in 2011 through Atem Books.
This interview was first published in Of The Afternoon Magazine Issue # 6 with a different introductory paragraph.