Photographer Asher Svidensky: Story is the only thing that matters
Asher Svidensky is a 25-year-old freelance photographer who makes beautiful photo projects devoted to the life of the East—Mongolia, China and more. His career in the photography field started when he was in the army (2009-2012). Over the past years, he has created a beautiful cover spread for National Geographic Traveller as well as provided his works to National Geographic Books, BBC, and The Guardian, to name just a few. And he also was a speaker at TEDx events in Tel Aviv and Mongolia. Asher Svidensky’s works can be viewed in his Instagram account and on his website.
Tell us a bit about your background. Where is your family from? Were there artists or photographers in your family? Where did you study photography? When did you feel that you want to pursue a photographer career?
My dad is from Russia and my mom is from Israel, they are both actors. They inspired me in different ways to deal with arts and fall in love with storytelling.
I barely attended a photography class or school, but I went through a lot of trial and error and assisted professional photographers as much as I could. I believe that learning anything should be organic and not linear as university studies tend to be — especially when it comes to creative work.
When I was about 17, I got really interested in scriptwriting and wanted to try my luck in making movies. My dad advised me to take a closer look at photography so that I could change the way I was seeing stories, not as they are acted on the theater's stage but as they appear on big screens - through the lens. It wasn't long before I fell in love with photography and it became my passion.
Your first photo project is “The Eagle Hunters of Mongolia”. Why Mongolia?... What did impress you most when you were doing that Mongolian photo project? What was the toughest thing about that project?
Mongolia always held a great fascination for me; a country that was surrounded by allegations rather than actual stories, rumors rather than real facts. So I decided to leave everything back home and just fly to Asia, at the time, Mongolia seemed to be the perfect place to start exploring the world.
I remember being overwhelmed with so much open space and freedom of most people I meet in Mongolia. I still call this country "The land of the free". The toughest thing I had to deal with was the language barrier. Of course, you can “make pretty images” of the Mongolian people's life without speaking the local language, but I wanted to do more, I wanted to learn more about them and hear their stories.
What locations and/ or themes are coming? Do you feel like capturing Israeli life or you prefer to focus on distant countries?
In early November, I'm flying to India to work on my own project, there’s also a lot of other places I’d love to see and work in. My dream destination right now is the Russia’s Far East. I'm constantly looking for local help there, but it proves difficult to do it online.
I am not really interested in covering anything in Israel for now due to the political expectation people have from photography projects here. I want to tell stories that aren't just "news content", I prefer to spend my time and work on projects I feel can be ever-lasting, work that can be relevant to people from all around the world. One of the ways to do this, in my mind, is to avoid politics.
When I work in the areas, which are distant from what I know or used to, I allow myself to forget the reality and focus on the only thing that matters — the story. If you read the text below my works, you can see that in many cases the story isn't about how unique or different certain people and cultures are, instead they are about things that are common to people all around the world — being human. Here's what I'm talking about:
”... Many years ago, in the 16th century, the Huang family brought the unique art of “Yin-Bou” fishing to the Li river of Xing-Ping village in South China.
Fishermen who use cormorant birds in order to fish in the river. In the old times, Yin-Bu fisherman would live on houseboats, rarely setting foot on land. Migrating along the river with fish — following their source of livelihood.
When a fisherman becomes too old for this kind of lifestyle, his family would take him to shore, build a wooden hut for him give him everything he needs to survive and leave him there.
And so, after a lifetime spent on the river with his family, the old fisherman finds himself on the steady ground, alone, looking outside of his hut upon the river. Waiting for the fishes to come back to his part of the river so he can see his family again.
As I was shooting 83-year-old Yue-Ming, I tried to have a portrait of him looking straight into the camera — but I was unsuccessful. I learned that his sons and grandsons left the life of fishing and move to the big city many years ago and he hasn't seen them since, but he still looks on the waters of the Li river, hoping that like in the old days, the fish will return and he will see his family again...”.
What does it require to be a good photographer? Did this profession change you in any way? Who are your teachers? What is your inspiration?
I think that the best advice I can give photographers today is that the most important thing is investing the time. Usually, one can't just pop into someone’s house for a few minutes, take images and leave with a good story — it never happens like that. Sitting down, sharing who you are, what you do, listening to the person you are photographing — all this is a key feature in my work.
In fact, the best advice I can give is – shut up and listen! There is an amazing TED Talk by Ernesto Sirolli where he describes his approach to helping young entrepreneurs in remote countries – just stop what you are doing and watch it! It is a great talk and I truly believe it is relevant to anyone who wants to understand and connect with local communities – with or without a camera…
Are there any of your personal photo exhibitions planned?
No, at the moment I feel like I need to grow much more before I start planning big exhibitions. Most of my stuff is free online on my site for everyone to see.
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