‘My name is Dina and I tell animate stories about inanimate objects”. The rest is not important, I suppose. I’m a person with little paper cities, sugar cubes, moon from polymer clay, doll’s miniatures, broken cups, handmade Rube Goldberg machine, repainted puzzles, wire trees, cardboard dragons and spilled coffee. And with photo camera. That’s quite essentially me.’
This is how Uncommon still life photographer Dina Belenko describes herself with refreshing honesty.
Having discovered Dina’s gallery on Instagram, The Uncommon Box decided to catch up with this unique and creative artiste and her penchant to instil life into lifeless objects and arrangements. Here is a candid conversation with the photo-artiste herself, which turned out to be an inspiring tete-a-tete.
TUB: What sparked off your interest in photography? Who inspired you on this journey or did you inspire yourself?
I was interested in photography since graduation from high school. I didn’t want to become a professional photographer, I just had a hobby. I was shooting portraits of my friends (and now I think it is a good thing to start), flowers, landscapes and anything I saw. Maybe I just liked the sound of the shutter.
I received a humanitarian education (Publishing and Editing). Oddly enough, this education was useful to me as a photographer: both in the technical part (the basics of image processing and prepress) and in the creative part (inspirational courses literature, aesthetics and cultural studies). I think it’s my dream to do book illustrations is a kind of desire to combine these two specialties together.
Picked a topic (literature, music, games, films) and I found something to be obsessed with. Obviously, I enjoy books about still life and storytelling (like Problem and Development of the Still Life. The Life of Things“ by Boris Vipper or ‘Historical Roots of the wonder tale“ by Vladimir Propp), but not exclusively. The last one I’ve read is ‘Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality“ by Eliezer Yudkowsky – it’s hilarious and heartbreaking at the same time. And Professor Quirrell (here he’s a competent teacher — calm, collected and powerful) had broken my heart.
Also animation of any kind (from Western to Japanese) is a great joy to me. Right now I’m a huge fan of Gravity Falls (it’s so sad that the show is over now, oh, heart, why are you making me feel things?!).
Sometimes all this fangirling slips into my work and I make a picture of a small series about my current crash, but for most of the time it stays backstage and keeps me inspired and happy.
TUB: Tell us in brief about your journey so far as a conceptual photographer?
There wasn’t a photography genre I haven’t tried, but it never was important. But one day I got tired of mindless pictures and tried to arrange composition by myself, surely, I failed, but the feeling was magical: now I’m a film director, hey, coffee cups, you’re my actors, listen and do as I say! I started to took photography more seriously (and finally read the instruction to my camera), started to think about what I want to say with my pictures, to plan shootings, draw sketches and pay attention to minor details. I began to control more and more aspects of my work.
Call me a control freak but I fell in love with it. I found out that what interests me lies not in tracing some events and retelling stories of some happenings, but in creating tales of my own and the easiest way to do this is when you have control over all the objects in your shot. And I understood that still life photography is something I can become good at. At least, theoretically. That’s why I decided to make it my profession.
TUB: What were the challenges you faced?
Last time it was gravity. But I dug up my glue gun, some wire and double-sided tape and took the photo anyway. Inanimate objects are extremely pleasant to work with, but if you want them to act in alien surroundings (make them fly or put them underwater), you’re going to have some troubles. But again, a glue gun is photographer’s best friend.
TUB: Tell us about your style of work? How do you decide what to capture and when?
First, I just sit down with my sketchbook, felt pens and a cup of tea and start to think: about what the next picture could be? I can choose an abstract topic (e.g. sea, astronomy, travel, sweets), and find suitable objects to this story. Or, on the contrary, I can select an object (e.g. recently bought cups, magnifying glass or shell) and come up with a little adventure for it. Take a coffee cup for example. It may belong to the astronomer and reflect the stars or lunar eclipse. Or a steam from a hot coffee can rise above it, and in this cloud kites or blimps might fly.
TUB: What kind of technology do you use for improving your work and how do you employ it?
To be honest, gear knowledge is not my strong suit. My favourite camera body is my only camera body (it’s Nikon D800, by the way). I use two lenses (50mm and 105mm), two speedlights SB-910, a couple of Westcott softboxes, two different reflectors and a tripod. I really love softboxes which can be open like an umbrella. I had a very hard time working with softboxes which had to be assembled piece by piece and now everything what can be made ready to work with one move looks like a blessing to me.
Also I never go out without a pair of tweezers, double-sided tape, cotton swabs, stationery clips and masking tape. All these things are life savers.
If I have to choose only one essential item, let it be a glue gun. This one really comes in handy where double sided tape cannot cope. Granted, the glue gun has its flaws, but it can handle a couple of cups, a tower of sugar cubes, lemon slices and, with some help of transparent (and retouched) supports, a stack of cups, plates, and silverware.
TUB: What are your goals, plans and dreams for yourself?
My biggest dream is to become the best in my field. I know it’s a long and hard way, and that I’m standing not even at the middle and I have a lot to learn. But everyone has to start from something. This dream may never come true, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t worth a try, right?
TUB: How do you find yourself different from other photographers?
I’d like to think that I love mundane objects in a special way. Every object around us keeps our emotions, expectations, feelings; every single thing grows old and breaks down just like we are. Things can tell what they saw, who held them, who accidentally broke them, who lovingly gathered them in pieces and repaired. I think it’s really fascinating: all these connections between things, their small transformations, their secret life and even simple comparisons in a “what does it look like” game help us understand how everything is set up. How does our mind work to find these connections? How does the world build them? You may imagine yourself as an explorer, like David Livingstone, in a world of inanimate objects.
TUB: Any word of advice, for aspiring photographers of your genre ?
When you don’t know what to photograph, go around your house all things that catch your eye. What do you see in your kitchen? Living room? Work table?
Make a list of your favourite food or flowers growing near your house. Here, you can start series right now: „10 stories about my favourite books“, „5 broken cups“, „31 autumn leaves“. Or wait a bit and combine that list with another. When I started working on ‘Endless Book“ series I was terrified, I had to make 52 pictures. 52! Me, who used to call „a series“ only three photos in a row. I pulled myself together and made a list of sweets and a list of celestial objects, and thought which of them could be combined. It turned out that cookies can become an asteroid belt and a donut is pretty good for a centre of a star system.
And it also helpful to think about circumstances in which you became most creative. Think about the place most comfortable to work. Does it need to be the place there you can talk to other people? Does it need be quiet and cozy? Inside or outside? Comfortable chair or a bench in a park? I found that I had most of my good ideas during sunny days, often — having long bus rides sitting by the window with headphones in my ears. Notice little things like that, things you love, things that inspires you. Remember them and they never fail to inspire you every day.
Dina ‘s clarity of vision about what she is passionate about and how she can mould her creativity to express the stories she wishes to narrate, is really admirable. One look at her captures, pulls us into her world of tales. Team TUB wishes Dina millions more such stories and incredible captures
You can find her work on:
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