Not a Metaphor: An Interview with Alisa Resnik



5 minutes reading

Alisa Resnik's (b. 1976, Russia) gloomy photos of dark interiors, people in bars and streets at night, have received a lot of attention recently. Her series One Another won the 2013 European Publisher's Award for Photography, and as a result was published simultaneously by the five publishers supporting the award. On Christmas Eve, Resnik made time to speak with GUP about loneliness, looking for the light in the dark and how that is not a metaphor.

Your photographic work takes place mostly at night in restaurants and bars, but you also work as a waitress. Do these two occupations influence each other?

When you are a waiter, you are an observer. It's interesting to look at people. Just to see how a person moves: how does the person order, how does the person eat, how does the person relate to the waiter? People don't know that you are an observer, they're eating and drinking, they're just relaxing. They don't know that there's somebody who's looking at them in a phenomenological way! (Laughs) I've learned a lot about people while working as a waitress, and I use it in my photography.

Most of the photos in One Another were taken in Berlin, where you've lived since you were fourteen. Did photographing the city change your relation to it?

Yes, it brought the city closer -- I feel more like I'm a part of Berlin now. I feel more accepted. And when you feel more accepted by the city, you'll accept the city more. It all happens simultaneously, because it happens in your own head anyway.

What are the things that most often capture your attention while you're photographing?

There's something formal I'm interested in, which is a dark background and some light. This is what very often happens in my photos: some light in a dark place. But it's not a metaphor for hope or something. Not even unconsciously.

So you like it visually?

I like a little bit of light on an object or on a person in a dark place where you can barely see anything. I like paintings a lot, baroque, Caravaggio and Renaissance art. But only while editing the book did I see the influence of this in my own work.

Is there any other form of art that inspires you to make your work?

Music is incredibly important to me. While I photograph I always have music going in my earphones. And in the bars where I photograph there's often music as well, so to me the two disciplines are very connected. The intensity of the music inspires me to take pictures. I think I will never get this kind of intensity with photography. But I can try.

Music is a little different though, since it continues well beyond a single moment as it's playing. Or do you think photography is capable of presenting more than a moment, too?

The book is what brings my photography closer to a piece of music, because it's a series of photos. It became possible to bring tension in between the separate moments. This is why I like the book.

These separate moments in the book seem to be tied together by a certain amount of shared loneliness. Do you think that the people you photograph might benefit in some way from the interaction?

Loneliness is a big state for many of us. There are people who just try to avoid it, and not think about it, but at the end of the day we're all lonely. I don't want to make it sweet, there's nothing sweet about it, but I do like to place loneliness at a poetic level. I think that can help people, yes.

There's a photo in my book of a naked woman with an animal skin around her. She's holding the animal skin like she's holding a baby. This was in a bar, and the girl in the photo works there. I took the photo the evening we met and we drank a lot. The whole night long. We closed the door and we talked about babies. We're both in our thirties. And we talked about babies, about probably never having any. That's why I included this picture. I could only hope that this little feeling will go somewhere.

How is photography able to transport feelings, you think?

I'm interested in the constant separation between people. There's something very scary about it. You can never know what's going on inside the other person. But when I'm in a shoot, there's a feeling that there's something like a connection.

Does that connection between you and another person happen particularly during shoots?
No, it can also happen when I drink with somebody. Photography is not the only way to get closer to people. (Laughs) But it works.

One of the reasons why I do photography is that, while I speak five languages, I'm not good in any of them. I was a teenager when I arrived in Berlin, so even my German is not perfect. I started photographing not such a long time ago, around 2007. It was a time when I couldn't really move. It was great to have photography as a tool that enabled me to go out at all.

But I honestly think that photography is just a small thing. If you talk about it, it easily becomes something pretentious. It isn't the main thing in the world. But what's so great about it, is that it's a simple tool. And I didn't stop using it once I had started.

What about the viewer? Since they aren't part of the original connection during the shoot, what do you suppose they get out of it?

Do you know this feeling when you've forgotten something, and suddenly you remember and you experience those forgotten feelings again? I think that photos can help people remember such old feelings, even if the viewer hasn't seen the photo before.

Alisa Resnik's monograph One Another is available for sale from Dewi Lewis (English) and Kehrer Verlag (German). Read our book review of One Another or view her earlier series Hoarse (which was also featured in GUP#33, The Stories Issue) in our online portfolio.