Alena Jascanka is is currently curating a photographic exhibition as part of this year’s Don’t Walk fashion show held in St. Andrews, Scotland. The show is endorsed by Lomography and has raised over £100, 000 in the last ten years for charities around the world… that’s pretty impressive right? Be sure to check out their site here. We talked to Alena about her strange entry to the photographic world, her photographic mentor and the challenges of her most recent project.
Why did you start taking pictures?
I’m glad you asked this question, because I think my story can be inspiring for others. I never was the typical quirky, living in my own world, artistic kid. And I cannot say that I started to take pictures to capture the amazing world around me or any of that sort of romantic stuff. In my case, everything was so much more prosaic. I didn’t really pick up a camera up until I was 18. And even then, I was doing BA in Finance and wouldn’t even dare to think of a career in anything other than business. I just thought it would be quite cool to do something creative alongside Uni, I didn’t have any experience in art, I didn’t know how to draw, so I found this evening course on analogue photography that didn’t require any prior knowledge and was designed to teach you from scratch. First, I was doing it for fun and didn’t think much of it, really. Yet, by the time I received my Finance degree it became very clear to me, that I would not be able to function on this planet, if I don’t pursue photography as a career.
In my case, it truly was a process of discovering who am I and what I want to do in life. I mean, right now I literally cannot live without photography, I have this compulsion to take pictures, I see the world around me in photo-frames, I appreciate the beauty of everything around us, I absolutely adore it and feel the obsessive need to capture it. But this all came as the result of photographing, not as the cause.
What’s changed now that you’re working commercially?
Nothing really. Well, I don’t have to pay for my films myself any more, which is quite cool! But, in terms of the creativity and the process, nothing has changed. People hire me for who I am and for my photographic style, so I don’t really have to compromise a lot there.
What it really did though, it made me feel pretty confident that I can actually make a living of photography. You know, there is this stereotype of a hungry artist and for a long time I was thinking that I’m making some kind of a sacrifice, that I’m trading the stable wealthy life of a financier to pursue my passion. And now I gradually realize that this simply is not true. And though, I’m still financially thousands of miles away from where I’d like to be, it doesn’t really bother me, because I have this firm confidence that it is going to happen, sooner or later.
How has growing up in Poland influenced your working practices?
That’s an easy one, growing up in Poland had absolutely no influence on my working practices.
I’m originally from Belarus and I generally moved quite a lot in my life and I always viewed Poland as just another country I lived in. This is basically true in regard to any country I ever lived in.
Well, hmm Poland, ok, if I consider Poland as solely a geographical location, and not a cultural construct, then yes. The thing is, I met my mentor in Poland, a person who is solely and fully responsible for me being a fashion photographer today. His name is Jacek Samotus, he is an incredible photographer who among others shot Gilbert&George for Vogue UK and made a beautiful series of Kurt Vonnegut portraits. Jacek was the first to see a potential in me. He and his wife basically took me under their wing and taught me everything I know about photography, most importantly they gave me the confidence that I can do this. And I would always be infinitely grateful to them for changing my life!
Now, if I am to name the place that influenced me the most, that would be London, hands down! This city is absolutely unique! It can be very cruel, yet it just opens up your head and your soul. This is the place where from just being a hobby photography became my profession.
Is curating DON’T WALK a new challenge? How did that come about?
I just received an email one day asking if I’d be interested to photograph a charity fashion show in Scotland. I had no idea what it was all about, but I had never been to Scotland before and I always wanted to go, so I said yes, not even thinking twice. I had no idea, what a great opportunity it actually was! And never in a million years would I expect this to be such an amazing amazing experience. I was quite anxious in the beginning, because I knew that I would have to photograph 26 people with very little or no modelling experience. We, fashion photographers, say that good model makes up for like 70% of a successful picture. So, shooting for DON’T WALK was a challenge in this sense. Well, I feel like challenge is too big of a word to use here. I would rather call it a situation out of my comfort zone, anyways, I did have to push myself, which is great, because I feel like I have grown from that experience.
But what I want to say here and that’s the most important bit: DON’T WALK is a dream project for me. Literally, if I were to name the most interesting, stimulating and inspiring job I have ever done, that would be DON’T WALK. And it is not even so much because of the task itself and the beauty of the idea behind the show. It is because of the people who stand behind it all. Soukaina, Katie, Tom, Walker, Nevine, Alina, all the models, everyone! They made me feel so welcome and so special and I never felt so trusted before either. I was given complete creative freedom and received all the imaginable support. I met passionate people who genuinely and almost fanatically care about what they do and most importantly I met friends for life!