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Camera obscura: Russia’s unknown photographers get a helping hand

Camera obscura: Russia's unknown photographers get a helping hand

Nadya Sheremetova's photography gallery is one of the few in Russia dedicated exclusively to young talent

19 February 2013
Text Olga Smirnova
Image of Nadya Sheremetova for Theory and Practice Ivan Peretz

Making your mark as a photographer in Russia is no easy feat with the number of galleries dedicated to photography few and far between. In an attempt to support emerging talent, Nadya Sheremetova set up FotoDepartament, a non-profit foundation that aims to promote contemporary Russian photography, in St Petersburg in 2006. As well as a gallery, FotoDepartament houses an education centre, library and bookshop all under one roof. Joining her in her endeavour are photographer and curator Olga Korsuna and art historian Yelena Zyryanova.

Why did you set up FotoDepartament?

NS: I wanted to do something completely different. I set up the photography foundation, then had a year off before realising I wanted to do something that would provide an alternative to the kind of photography that existed at the time.

What sort of work is FotoDepartament involved in?

NS: At first it was just an information centre and a space dedicated to photography where people could come and browse books. It is still the only photography library in the city. No other library, not even the biggest in the city, has such a wide selection of photography books. We then launched Proper Name, a project to showcase the work of young photographers, which has now become the Young Photography Awards. It’s the project that most excites us at the moment.

How did working with young photographers become a priority for FotoDepartament?

NS: The Young Photography Awards gives us a chance to choose the strongest photographers and decide which ones to support. Unlike the rest of the world, the idea of shooting independently and exhibiting your photographs in galleries, in museums and at festivals is unthinkable — we don’t have the infrastructure for it in Russia. There are just some galleries in Moscow. As soon as we realised this infrastructure was missing, we decided to create it ourselves. The Fotodepartament gallery is a space where young photographers can exhibit their work. For many, it’s their first step.

Can you speak a little about Photography as Research?

NS: Photography as Research is a four-month programme that’s designed to encourage people to think about photography and teach them about the theory surrounding photography. It’s important for us to talk about photography. Not just as a practical art form but also from an intellectual point of view. In our seminars we talk about how photography is understood and perceived, how it can be deconstructed and how it differs from other media.

How can a young foundation like yours be self-sustainable?

NS: We began absolutely independently, without any support. For the past two years we have simply been investing everything we have. At the moment, we earn some money through our education programmes although we try to keep prices as low as possible. Sales from books provide another source of income although that tends to be spent on rent. And the rest of the budget is for exhibitions. We constantly have to fundraise.

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