When we photograph people, the goal is often to depict them at their best, in their most flattering angles, and most graceful expressions. Only in street photography and documentary projects do we often aim to capture our subjects as candidly or straightforward as possible. But for Russian photographer Dmitri Pryahin, capturing the rawness of someone’s innermost thoughts and expressions is an even more fascinating way to photograph people. This perspective has lead to the most unusual results and unsettling visual narratives, marked by grotesque expressions and movements that we’ll find in his collection.
Even more interesting is the fact that Dmitri doesn’t consider his work as dark or bizarre; it’s merely the external manifestation of what’s “happening inside” his subjects. This somewhat blurs the line between documenting what is real for the subject and what can be perceived through his photographs. It’s something we felt compelled to probe into, so we asked Dmitri to tell us more about his work and the motivations behind his intriguing mindset.
Phoblographer: Hello Dmitri! Can you tell us something about yourself and what you do?
Dmitri: Hello Joy. It so happened that I have been doing photography for the last 10 years, and it’s my only occupation.
Phoblographer: How did you get into photography? How did you discover the kind of photography and imagery you make now?
Dmitri: At first I was engaged in wedding photography, then it bothered me. I decided to create the photos I wanted, which were not asked by somebody else. That is, I decided to become my own client and not wait for someone to ask me to do what I want. The imagery of my work formed gradually. I did not decide in advance that my photos will look as such. They appear as themselves and continue to change, although not as much as before.
Phoblographer: Your photos show a really dark and unsettling mood and narrative in them. How did you discover this very unique style?
Dmitri: I do not consider my photos to be dark. For me, they reflect life, without the evaluation of whether they are light or dark. For me, the state of inspiration from when a person is restless, moving, or expressing what is happening inside him is very important. Again, this is all without trying to achieve in advance a beautiful or ugly result.
When the body obeys the motive, it moves itself, and it’s interesting to observe. I make this the subject of my photos. In ordinary life, we have little experience of observing one another because we always try to observe decency and be motionless. Only our closest relatives can observe us in our natural manifestations. I believe that photography should cover the entire spectrum of human manifestation. Otherwise, it becomes terribly boring and limited.
Phoblographer: Where do you get the inspiration for the kind of photography you do?
Dmitri: I am inspired by many things like literature, music, dance, theater, and fine arts. I was greatly influenced by Japanese photographers.
I love art that mixes the traditions of different cultures and not fixed in its origins. People always talk about the same thing; only the tools change. Therefore, we understand each other, regardless of where we were born and at what time we live in.
Phoblographer: Can you give us an idea about how you brainstorm for your projects? Do you find that ideas come to you as quickly or as often as you want/need them to?
Dmitri: I never think about the future or think about the shoot beforehand. It is much more important for me to not make the model think about what he will look like. The subject is the main element; the rest is secondary. My main task is to explain to the model, that he (or she) is the most important element, not me. If the desired state is reached, you can start shooting. In any circumstances, the shoot will be interesting.
Phoblographer: All your photos feature distorted faces and eerie expressions. Why the fascination for these bizarre elements? How do you get your subjects to pose/act for you in this way?
Dmitri: For me, the moments described by the way someone looks like are valuable, since they are usually hidden from outsiders. In traditional culture, they are hidden. And I love people in their entirely. I myself often feel like I cannot or I have no right to show people what is going on inside me. People should be shown only a smile or complete immobility.
This leads to person feeling unhappy and afraid of his external manifestations. Before a shoot, I explain to my models that it doesn’t matter how they look, it’s only what’s inside them that matters. What moves them. External manifestations are only consequences, and are interesting if they follow their inner motives. I want people to forget about their appearance and the fact that we’re taking photos; I want them to realize that we’re working only with their own internal state.
Phoblographer: How do you see your work evolving in the next few years? Is there anything else that you wish to achieve with the style and kind of photography that you do?
Dmitri: I myself am interested to see how my photography develops. Often, even a single opinion or person influences the following shoots. Each of us is the sum of the people we know. This is life that we find in new meetings, so I would like to get acquainted with and take photos of as many people as possible.
Phoblographer: What do you consider to be the most crucial element that makes your style truly your own?
Dmitri: It’s difficult for me to name the key elements of my style, because I myself have taken them from a multitude of other authors. But, nevertheless, I often hear that my style is recognizable.
Apparently, your key elements consist of a certain combination of other key elements which you take from those who worked before you. I often use black and white images, publish photos in pairs, use very close-ups, and apply minimalism. But what I do different is mainly helping my models express themselves through my photos. For me, it is not so much a photograph that matters, but how it affects a person.
Phoblographer: Lastly, what would you advise those who want to develop their own emotive and unconventional approach to photography?
Dmitri: To begin with, you need to understand what your approach is, regardless of the kind of photography or art that you do. What pleases you? In no case do you have to photograph only for the sake of images. Once you understand what moves you, you have to take up the tools.
Let the photo be a consequence, not a purpose.
Visit Dmitri Pryahin’s Behance portfolio to see more of his intriguing photography.