a Ukrainian photographer, director, and art director based in Kyiv
Interview: Anastasia Gorbunova
Photo: Sasha Tereshchenko
What’s it like to be you?
Let’s narrow down the question: as a person, as an artist, or as a friend?
When I ask you this question, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? How do you see yourself first?
I think primarily of my personality. I think that each person is an individual first and foremost. Each person has a completely different set of certain qualities that shape future worldviews. And first of all, what I value most is not what a person does, but who the person is inside, how he thinks, and what his worldview is. What was the question again?
What’s it like to be you?
Well, sometimes it’s not easy for me, because I’m a big dreamer. I love to dream and believe that it’s an integral part of me and of being me because for me my dreams are my plans. Meaning that I don’t distinguish between dreams and plans. I love it when dreams come true and, above all, I believe that any dream can come true. It’s up to you. You know, there is a saying, “Fear what you dream of” because these dreams usually come true. And at the same time, I consider myself a good person. If I let someone into my circle, it always remains as sincere as possible, “gratuitous” and I am always ready to help the person I love. I give my all, roughly speaking, to solve a given situation. I work on myself a lot. I can’t spend a day without being unproductive. It’s a little crazy. Because of this, I can’t relax and now I’m learning to completely disconnect from social networks, from any contact with the Internet, because it’s a very addictive and very exhausting part of modern society. Me included. So you learn to switch off completely in order to feel stable inside. There is meditation and various activities to achieve this, and I am working on it.
Are you true to your words?
If you mean that I follow through with what I say then yes. The consequences of my words are usually very important to me. I used to have problems with that before. Maybe I even used to say things that I didn’t mean. Now that I have become more mature and gained more life experience, I understand that words can say a lot about a person and that it is very important that these words coincide with some merit, facts, consequences. That is why it is important for me that my words will lead to what consequently shall be fulfilled.
How important is freedom?
It’s very important. And freedom … Everyone can answer this question differently, but for me, it is very important to be a free person. And freedom begins with the self. There is a rule that freedom ends where another person’s freedom begins. That is, freedom of expression is important to me, and I found that freedom in the United States. When I came there, I was 19 years old. I lived there for almost 4 months and I owe it to this country that it taught me to be free and think freely. I was able to act freely and be myself, regardless of the opinion of others. Because it’s super-important. We have a lot of talented people who fall into the trap of being criticized and ridiculed, and it affects them a lot. Freedom is first and foremost about self-sufficiency. If a person is self-sufficient, he will be free.
Does the power of love exist?
Of course! And in Greek mythology – there are as many as seven or eight. The Greeks distinguished completely different types of power. But the power of love really exists, and the main thing is to have the right person next to you. The second thing is for you to fill yourself with love from within, because we are like spores that release … Or like cats that release their pheromones with their pads, and thus we are attached to them. Now the popular word “vibe” – so this vibe, which comes from a person, is very important. And it’s great if it comes out of love. Love can only fill you up, inspire and improve you as an artist, as a person, as anyone. I truly believe in this.
Would you pick the brain or the heart?
The heart. Because, for example, I make most of my important decisions in life-based solely on intuition and my inner voice. I started with the fact that I am a dreamer, and it is impossible to dream while guided by the brain. The brain is rational, I am irrational. My heart has never failed me and does not fail me now, because I act only from the realms of the heart. I do only what I like, what I enjoy, and never do what is necessary. It is wrong to think that way. You don’t owe anyone anything. Therefore, it is very important to act from one’s own convictions and from one’s own worldview. And it all depends on you.
Have you ever felt overwhelmed by life?
Do you mean a burnout?
We might have different interpretations of this question, it’s important how you perceive it. In my understanding, oversaturation with life is when everything seems to be fine, when you have a job, you have a lot of people around, but at some point, you stop and realize that everything seems to be fine, but something still feels off. Perhaps it is a burnout, in a sense.
I will answer this question with how I felt about it and divide it into certain parts.
Firstly, I have probably never been overwhelmed by life, because I love life very much. I sometimes tell my girlfriend how much I love life and how lucky I am, because I do my favorite thing, I have the right person next to me, a loved one. I love this world, I love everything I do and everything that happens around me.
Secondly, there may be such a thing as burnout. Burnout is a normal process, it can also occur due to the fact that life is very busy. You do a lot here, there, you went there, you did something here, you talked to someone, and it often happens that you end up burnt out. In time you need to learn how to regulate this process and ground yourself, to be alone with yourself. “Alone with yourself” flows into the fact that everything should be in balance. I’m not the kind of person who goes “from one extreme to the other extreme.” If you take my life as a subject, there are no “swings” in it. I like the straight line, which gradually grows upwards. And so I like to keep that balance, learn to find it, and take away everything superfluous from it.
On the one hand, I’m an extrovert, I communicate a lot. And on the other – I’m a loner. “The lone wolf.” I like to spend time with myself, read, do something else without being in society. And I find it entertaining and it charges me for new accomplishments.
What is your definition of happiness?
It’s an internal state, it’s ephemeral. It would be a sin to describe it in words. Because it’s a very subtle feeling. Those who say “I’m happy” or those who say a lot on this topic communicate more with telepathy. Because it’s a feeling you can’t frame in words. And why do that? If you try to do it, there are a number of factors. For example, I am happy when a happy person is next to me. I am happy when the cat comes to me in the morning to cuddle when I wake up, and he purrs next to me. I am happy when I do my favorite thing and see a future of doing it. I am happy when my family is happy and when they are healthy. I am happy when I give people goodness and happiness, and they give it to me in return. I’m happy when I don’t think about money. We still live in a material world and for me, the question of money is also important. I love money, and that’s okay. But I have no goal to be a billionaire. If I become one – okay. But I want to live in disregard for finances so that if I wanted to send my parents on a trip I would be able to do that. Or if I wanted to travel somewhere tomorrow – nothing would hold me back. It’s great when you don’t have to worry about how much things cost. Just get a ticket and go wherever – preferably on a private jet. Money is a tool and you need it to meet your needs. If I were to describe my attitude to money, it’s like this: my life is a yacht, and money is the steering wheel. And thanks to the money I will be able to sail, to reach different harbors. It’s an integral part of life.
What is human beauty to you? And beauty in general.
There are two parts of human beauty – female and male. And they are completely different both physically and internally. I’ll start with men. Because this is a question that I reveal in my project and I want to continue to address it. This is “discovering man`s beauty”. Male beauty, first of all, has a core of character. If a man is characterless, he a priori can not be beautiful to me. That is, male beauty is more inward. It’s about his principles, worldview, awareness, knowledge, the ability to make correct and clear decisions, and the ability to take responsibility. For me, male beauty is manifested in charisma.
If we discuss female beauty – it’s different. It is also internal. But, for example, for me, the manifestation of external beauty is very important. As Chekhov wrote, “both spirit and body must be beautiful.” For me, that’s important: how much a woman, a girl knows how to look after herself, her appearance, her body. But if behind the aforementioned there is no inner world, wisdom … Female wisdom is an absolutely new substance for me which absolutely does not depend on age and it very much differs from man’s. It amazes me. If a woman is wise, it gives 100 points to her karma. If we talk about the tandem of a man and a woman, the truth is that behind every “great man there was always a great woman.” And it really is that way. It is impossible without this joint force. Without it, everything is twice as little.
And what about beauty in general?
Beauty is in everything. Lately, I’ve been trying to document everything I see, all the beauty, on my phone’s camera. Because you always have your phone at hand. I want a small camera to capture these moments. Because beauty is always in everything. I can say a banal phrase as “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder”, but it’s really true. We create beauty. Even being in my apartment, I look at a plant – wow, it’s beautiful. I look at my cat – oh my God, what a beauty. I look, for example, at the candle, which is covered in wax, and the wax seems to continue to flow, but it actually froze. It’s also beautiful. Or how a lamp is turned at a certain angle – it’s very geometric, triangular. It stands above the plant. Or the way a library looks – there are some books wrapped in paper and it makes me very angry, I need to remove it all right now. That is, I see beauty in everything that surrounds me. At least I try to see it.
Is it possible to always stay true to yourself and your beliefs?
It’s the only way. I think that if you go against your values, then it is very difficult from a moral standpoint. And so at work, I realized that when you’ve made a certain name for yourself, when you worked at a certain level, and you work, and you keep improving, you can no longer betray your standards and principles. And that’s how it works with everything. Based on the terms of morality and the terms of the principles that are within me, I choose my circle of communication. I filter a lot of things out. A friend once said to me, “Vova, you’re a super wise person for a 24-year-old. I’ve only just come to the point where I pay attention to who I spend time with, who I communicate with.” Because the environment shapes us, and we shape it. It’s like an interdependent process. It’s like our pillars – certain morals, worldviews. When I worked with a psychologist, we even wrote out life principles and paradigms. I always adhere to these principles.
Do you believe in human sincerity?
Of course, and I will for the rest of my life. Whoever let me down, whoever I was disappointed in – I could say that I no longer trust people after that, but this is not the case. I just know that I don’t feel this world in any other way. I am as sincere as I possibly can. I can enter the “comfort zone” of a person at our first meeting and be sincere. This is my thing, and it helps me a lot when working with models, in working with any new team. I never drag things. I’m always, “that’s who I am, let’s either open up to each other, or we work like this.” Sincerity is super important to me, and I want kindness from people around me. It will not always be mutual, I will face disappointments, frustrations, but I don’t see it any other way. I don’t see the point in being dishonest.
Is it possible to cultivate sensuality?
Have you seen the animated film “Soul”?
Do you remember how people had a certain number of features at once? There is something about that. There is this magic of not understanding the nature of where it came from, or why. We begin to analyze, compare ourselves with our parents, with our relatives (sisters, brothers, and others), then with our friends, and we don’t find any of our traits in others. Therefore, I think that there are still some stars that impress us and instill in us certain qualities. For example, I still can’t understand where I got this inner core from my childhood. If you analyze what I do and where I am now, it does not correspond to who I was before. I only owe it to my inner core. The same with “sensuality”. It’s such a subtle thing that cannot be cultivated. It may be a little created and developed, but it’s something that is very difficult to predict. It comes from the depth of a human soul. And not everyone has it. I think it’s an important thing for artists. We used to think of landscape artists as someone who is stuck in the past, but Picasso, for example, didn’t have that about him. Even Picasso did not have this “inner sensuality.” I read his diaries, and he said he would be jealous of those people who go out, put up an easel, and portray nature. Because they feel how the sun’s rays fall on water, how the wind sways the leaves of trees, and many different natural phenomena. He did possess that.
I wanted to ask you about the most beautiful things in the world for you, but since you answered that you see beauty in everything, I will ask you about one of your favorite things in the world? What things are dear to your soul?
Favorite things in terms of material or a happening?
I love to travel. I always find beauty in what nature gives us. I’m flying to Greece soon, and I’ve wanted to go there for a long time, and I imagine how much “food” it will be for my soul. Because we were stuck in quarantine and there was no “food”. I love to travel and I adore new landscapes, because they give new associations, new emotions, new neural connections, which then flow into something more specific: in projects, in photography. I really like photography in all of its manifestations. I already have a chronic disease – if I saw a beautiful phenomenon and did not take a picture of it, I feel a small wound in my soul. Sometimes I don’t take pictures on purpose in order to make a mental shot, and sometimes I just don’t have time. I really like to record the discovery of beauty. Plus I love beautiful music, I listen to it very often, I can’t live a day without music. I seek, I study, I collect music, it’s an integral part of my life. I love the aesthetic picture in movies and I dream of coming to the point that I will shoot my feature film and do it so elegantly and beautifully that it will not leave people indifferent. Beauty has this property of impressing, of holding one’s breath.
And, of course, I love the summer, and I want to live to the fullest each summer because that’s when we are closest to nature. We can strip naked and just run to the beach screaming, or meet the sunrise or watch the sunset.
I love to read and build air castles when I read. I always read and dream. Everything happens in my head. It’s also an integral part of my life. I love beautiful books, I collect them, I have a whole library. I always bring a book from a country I visit, and I never spare money on books, because I usually have big appetites and the books I want are not cheap. I’d rather buy a book than clothes. This may be strange and “stupid”, but the knowledge I take from books cannot be found elsewhere: neither on the Internet nor in any other source. And I like to eat delicious food haha.
How important is one’s comfort zone?
It’s very important for me because I only finished renovating my apartment in October. We did it with a friend, and it’s a place of maximum comfort. Also because it’s in Comfort Town haha. I’ve always craved this in my life, to feel it. I say that everything is in balance, and now is the period when I find myself in extremely comfortable conditions, I allow myself everything and enjoy it. That is, I wake up every day in my apartment with a sense of reverence, because I did it, because all that is present in that space is a physical manifestation of me and my qualities. I decorated the apartment with beautiful covers of some vinyl releases, paintings. I have a library with all the books that I’ve collected throughout my life. I have a huge TV with an awesome display because I love movies and I love to play Play Playstation. Everything is thought through and cool and I get a high from it every day. But there is another period of my life ahead of me, which I am going to and where I will have to get out of this comfort zone. I feel it is necessary and I will challenge myself again. Your comfort zone can suck you in and leave you stuck in one place and that’s it. This is my biggest fear. And while I’m 24, I understand that I want to go further, and I also understand that soon there will be a period when I will leave my comfort zone. But for now, I enjoy it. I know that there will be high turbulence ahead, and I am ready for it.
Who will you never work with?
With lousy people. Those who are mentally poor and who neglect their inner evolution, who look at things only on the surface and who don’t meet my value, who don’t share my worldview, who are stingy, who treat my work and the things I do with disrespect. And this, unfortunately, is a common thing in Ukraine because people here are culturally poor. Generally speaking. Here’s a case: I once watched an interview with Peter Linberg, he said that he once met a famous actor, and he was late for the shoot and said to Peter: “ Peter, come on, I only have 45 minutes”. Peter replied: “I will only need 7”. The client showed signs of disrespect at the very start, and you don’t have to put up with that sort of attitude. Why dirty yourself with that? Everything should be mutual.
What was your biggest disappointment in people?
I don’t think there was anything that dramatic. There were disappointments, there were cases when, without knowing the reason, people betrayed or disappointed me. I know that it wasn’t the first time and it wasn’t the last time, and so I changed my attitude to such matters. It’s like stoicism. In these cases, I am a supporter of the philosophy of Stoicism. Although I am very vulnerable in these situations, I can think about them for a long time without being able to forgive. If a person tries to make amends, it is very difficult for me. I am not that easy in this respect. Because if I open my heart to someone, I want the same in return. If it doesn’t happen and then you are faced with betrayal – it’s the end for me.
Could you share some fucked up stories from your photoshoots?
We recently shot the cover of L’Officiel and obviously, everyone has references and something they are inspired by. Moodboards, in fact, consist of references, other photos. So I prepared everything, we did the shoot, and in post-production, one picture ended up being very similar to the one on the mood board. Both in colors, the mise en scene, everything. I wrote to the editors that I don’t want the image to be on the cover, but it’s ok for it to be in the spread. They said, “everything is fine, it fits perfectly with the theme of the issue” and they took it. Well, of course, there were cases when people said that it was plagiarism. But it didn’t happen because people looked at the image and connected the dots with the image on the mood board but because the model, a “very good person”, who was modeling for the shoot, after finding out about the similarities of the images said, “I don’t want to be posted in this magazine, it’s plagiarism.” That’s a case of disappointment in people. After that, I decided that I would never work with photo references ever again and it made me even stronger. Fuck ups happen for a reason – you come to conclusions and you become better, you don’t make the same mistakes again. Yet now I know that it’s a thing of the past now.
What does being in harmony with the self mean to you?
It’s my constant spiritual state.
Where is it important to seek a balance?
In everything that you do. I don’t do very well with anger. I become very explosive: I can say a lot of unnecessary things, I can offend people, and that is my vice. I have been working on this issue since my childhood. But so far without success. But the balance must be present in everything. It’s the state of mind to which all the monks, Buddhists, and those who are seeking God aspire. I am currently reading this great book called “Autobiography of a Yogi“. It teaches me to find balance and to work with my thoughts. First of all, it’s all about what is happening in the cerebral cortex. We can program it. It’s our tool. Not vice versa.
Speaking on the topic of balance, how do you learn to listen to yourself?
It’s, in fact, a process. That’s why I said that I always had my opinion, my inner core. I was an asshole as a kid. I always had my own opinion about everything and it was always the correct one, as I thought back then. And it taught me to listen to myself. It’s a difficult process if you were brought up in one particular way as a child. “Why aren’t you like all the other normal children?” is a very clichéd phrase that is used against children, including in relation to me, and a lot of children break down because it kills their personality, their uniqueness, it’s a process that needs to be brought up from an early age. you want to do something creative and be in harmony with yourself, you must and should be able to listen to yourself. If not, then work on it. It’s possible. It’s something that you can cultivate within yourself. Stephen Covey’s book “7 Habits of Extremely Effective People” at the age of 15 helped me a lot. It’s fundamental, I read it twice. The ability to listen to yourself should come first and foremost. It’s normal to have an ego, yet we have to understand the boundaries, and that’s where we have to seek balance. Yet it’s ok to love the self. It’s a good thing, not a bad one.
Is inspiration an accidental feeling or a learned skill?
I remember Annie Leibovitz’s photo of a woman sitting on a bed, and the photo is called “Waiting for Inspiration.” And it has that emotion – the woman sits in a bedroom, flooded by the sun… It’s difficult to answer this question because I love when inspiration comes to you when it strikes you. That’s when the strongest projects are born. Then you realize that it is destiny. But given that I am a professional, I have learned to squeeze inspiration out of myself and made a habit out of it. When working with commercial projects, I have to present an idea and create a mood board in one way or another. That’s where I “squeeze the toothpaste” to make both parties satisfied. But when inspiration strikes you – it’s the best of things. That’s where the best projects are born. I consider one of my latest projects to be my strongest work and I hope I can present it to the world after this interview comes out. That’s the sort of spirit that I want to work in – of this scale and only of such value.
What question would you like to be asked in an interview and what would you answer?
Interesting. I can say that this was a great interview, a very deep one. I missed that. All the interviews I had before were very work-oriented. And I like to philosophize, to think. And regarding your question … I won’t ask the question, but I will simply give an answer. I have a dream. Imagine this: a big hall, a lot of people, light on the stage, an opening one-minute track begins, I can even send it to you, and then when it happens, we will come back to this interview. It may be in 10, 20, 30 years, it might be unavailable anymore, but let’s save the interview because we are creating history. So I go on stage, I hear applause, I have goosebumps because whenever I listen to this song excerpt, I always dream about it and visualize it. Music is playing, everyone is applauding, the hall is full, I go out and I am given either an Oscar or an award that has weight, and then I give a speech. And in this speech … I really like to talk, 60 students graduated from my course. I adore it. I love inspiring people. And the speech that I will give, will be a great source of inspiration… Like Steve Jobs’s speech at Stanford.
What is the power of your persona?
In fact, I want to create a film that will be very difficult to implement – about the fact that we as people can be in completely different guises, whilst communicating with different people, and it won’t be hypocritical – rather our different manifestations. And it’s normal. Because that’s the way of the world. It’s changing. We nurture these images. That’s good too. Being able to work with your image is also great, I know how to do it. But first of all, I am a person, and I often think that people don’t really know me. People may create a vision of me based on my social networks and either have respect for me and feel intimidated or see me as someone very arrogant. It is what it is. If you look at my personal path, then it’s something I’ve stumbled upon quite often. But I realized that when you are disliked by others, it is a very good sign that you are worth something and people are discussing you, criticizing you, they are spending their time and wasting their energy on gossip. I always thought that it was nonsense. I never spent time gossiping about other people. There is always a person behind any given image. Those who know me really well say that Vova Clover and the Vova that they know are completely different people. But that doesn’t mean I’m saying farewell to my image. It exists, let it be, I will continue to create. Because the artist is an integral part of the image. But if someone wants to know me better, and if I let them into the circle, they will see me as someone real. That’s it.