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Night scenes, dark forests, long stretches of coastline, and many at first confusing motifs, make up the exciting series produced by the Russian photographer who has been living in Italy for around five years. The intensely loaded atmosphere, which Martynova associates with cosmological phenomena, serves to further underline the loneliness of those portrayed.

LFI: How did the idea of linking cosmological meaning with the reality of African immigrants come about?
Alisa Martynova: I started thinking about this project back in 2016 during my first year at photography school. At first my approach was quite direct, I was producing a reportage covering the reception centres for migrants in Florence. Two years later, when I returned to the topic, I was looking at the old photographs and I felt there was something missing. Subsequently, I spent a lot of time talking with migrants, researching books and articles, meeting psychologists and people who worked in the field. I found out that, obviously, there was not just one, but an enormous set of different, often contradictory feelings. Apart from looking for the feeling, I made an attempt to find a symbol that could embody it. Outer space is something that evokes a mix of conflicting feelings: excitement, curiosity, terror... we commonly associate it with limbo; it embraces the future and the unknown.

What is the relationship between the outdoor and landscape photographs and the intimate portraits taken indoors?
My intention was to use landscape photographs as a mirror of the inner state of a person; somehow the same way it works in the Romantic poetry. For Percy Bysshe Shelley, one of the major English Romantic poets, weather conditions and nature conveyed “the atmosphere of human thought”. I guess in my project it is the atmosphere of human feeling. I was working a lot with the unconscious, and some of the landscapes were inspired by the environments that the subjects of the portraits saw in their dreams.

How was the collaboration with the persons portrayed? Did you give the protagonists fixed directions or did they also come up with suggestions?
I guess it was a mixture of the two. The stories of the people I was portraying were often catalysts for the photographs. While shooting, I try to carefully create a frame and then let the subject move freely within it. I try to slow down the pace and capture the tiniest movement without clicking the shutter; then, when I notice it, I develop it into a photograph. I appreciate when gestures seem as if they were taken from a motion picture frame. At one point I met a guy who was a dancer of traditional African dances. That was a real gift!  

How were your experiences with the Leica SL?
You know, these days we get very nostalgic about film cameras, about that personal touch, or a special graininess in the material. I feel like the Leica SL has its own character, which is visible in the texture of the photograph. It is very intuitive and easy to use. I’ve always stuck to the idea that cameras don’t really matter in photographic work (I mean, of course, to a certain extent), but! Leica has just broken my heart.

You photographed the Nowhere Near series between 2018 and 2020, right? Is the series finished or will you continue working on it?
Absolutely correct. I still don’t know exactly: one moment I think it’s finished and I have nothing more to say; another I feel like continuing. I guess, we’ll see. (Interview: Ulrich Rüter)

All pictures on this page © Alisa Martynova
Equipment: Leica SL with Summilux-SL 1:1.4/50 Asph and Apo-Summicron-SL 1:2/35 Asph
© Francesco Levy

Alisa Martynova

was born in 1994, in Orenburg, Russia. After finishing her studies of Foreign Philology in Russia, she graduated from a photography program at the Fondazione Studio Marangoni in Florence, Italy, in 2019. Martynova is a member of the Parallelo Zero Photography Agency; she lives and works in Florence.

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