An Interview with Photographer Olya Turcihin
Meeting Olya changed my life. As a writer, I love spending time with other creative souls, and Olya oozes creativity. But it’s much more than her creativity that catches one’s attention. She’s an observer of life . . . a keen eye focusing on minute and dismissed locations, people, and fixtures. And through Olya’s epic lens, I find myself seeing things around me in new ways and many times seeing these items for the first time. I’ve started to imitate Olya’s style–I call them Olya Moments–taking impromptu pics of tattered old tug boats along the East River, weathered rocks, and the vibrant movement of the city. She does this to you–prodding you to feel wide awake, ready to capture the world around you in a refreshing way. So here’s to a few of your own Olya Moments, and a little reawakening to all that surrounds you.
Life of Riley: I’ve been browsing Olya’s Urban Journal, and I went back to the very first post from the blog launch. You talk about your sister and father and how much you miss them both. How does your art bring you closer to them?
O: Both my dad and sister possessed the creative spirit that makes life exciting, perhaps fulfilling in a way. The absence of their physical presence in my life presents itself as a massive hole that can’t be easily filled. I only recently realized that this hole was creating a disconnect in my life. It’s been 13 years now that my sister died, and 7 years for my dad. I remember telling my sister the last time I saw her, that she is and always will be half my soul. That part of my soul is just now partially filling with the creative juices I never allowed myself to explore. I rode on my sister’s and my father’s wave for so long that I had no idea that the “creative touch” was within me as well. Maybe this is my way of immortalizing the wonderful life-force they both gave me.
Life of Riley: You speak of a journey to self-realization . . . what exactly does that mean to you? Where do you think you are headed?
O: I don’t know where I am heading – but I know that I am getting closer. I was feeling a bit dead inside, not taking the risks to get me to the “next thing”. This journey is hedonistic, but I am not trading it in. The deadness that was inside is now slowly awakening. I am figuring out what makes me tick.
Life of Riley: When did you become interested in Photography?
O: Working for an airline, my father was able to give us one of the best gifts – travel! We took advantage of this as a family and I remember wanting to chronicle our times together in pictures. So I think at first I was mesmerized by all the new things I saw and the happy times with my family. As I got older, I enjoyed studying photographs in books, magazines, museums but never pursued photography as a hobby. I loved it but was just too painfully shy to express myself. So, at my age now (old!), I am starting to grow up.
Life of Riley: You obviously capture images, many times of the simplest of things, and turn them into works of art. Do you have to analyze a wall of peeling paint or a crushed flower in order to register something more there? Or do you look at the world in a different way with a special lens?
O: I am not sure how to answer this, Maria. I do look for color, texture and a certain sensuality when I am walking around. Many times, the everyday things we pass on the street can be viewed as mundane and/or dirty. But, I have always aspired to see beauty in everything, even finding the good in people rather than concentrating on the less desirable attributes.
Peeling paint seems to be a theme for me as I am trying to get to the core of myself – perhaps, peeling away the newer layers, to get to the essential self. It’s like the city is peeling everywhere revealing its’ own history and core within a natural world of earth, sun, wind, rain, plants/weeds pushing through—the juxtaposition of the urban and natural worlds in a constant battle trying to control the streets. My goal is for the viewer to be able to touch the texture, feel the sunshine, and take part in a sensual world that presents itself to me. The beauty is out there for the taking. In fact, the other day I was walking on the Roosevelt Island promenade and the scent of the desert roses planted up and down the walk wafted through the air – and I almost took a picture of a rose thinking I could convey the heavenly smell!
Also, by the good graces of my artist friend, I have been exposed to art in a big way. Seeing art by what I find on a street wall in an abstract way is truly exciting for me. Natural elements like tree bark and flowers, as well as graffiti colors and marks that fade, chip or peel become the canvas for me. And, maybe having the viewer question exactly what they are viewing becomes my challenge.
Life of Riley: What are some of your favorite photographs that you’ve taken?
O: Some of my favorites now are my self-portraits. Through this process, which can be a difficult experience, I am becoming more comfortable with myself, with my body image. The first self-portrait on the blog was a way for me to say – Yes! I am here…
Life of Riley: What are some of your favorite photographs taken by others?
O: There are images that stick in my mind, but it would be hard to pin just a few down. But, I love old black and white photos. Harry Callahan, Imogen Cunnigham, Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Robert Frank are just some names that come to mind. I never tire of Alfred Stieglitz’s pictures of the city and Georgia O’Keefe. And, Sally Mann’s photos of her family are both beautiful and at the same time creepy. I love to feel that uncertainty that an image can provoke.
Last year, I was excited to see “Who Shot Rock and Roll” at the Brooklyn Museum and I realized that so many photographs from the music world are etched in my mind from my teenage years. They have become iconic for me. Staring at the art work/photography of rock album covers was a favorite pastime for me. Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan and Led Zeppelin album covers are some examples of this. The shots of Patti Smith by Robert Mapplethorpe are some of my favorite images. Robert Mapplethorpe was truly able to capture the intensity of their relationship in these portraits.
This past week, I went to a Chelsea gallery, PPOW to see Ellen Kooi – a photographer that creates a beautiful, magical and somewhat edgy world.
Life of Riley: Who are your inspirations?
I constantly find inspiration around me. A few months ago, I read Patti Smith’s book, “Just Kids”. Her journal type writing and the incredible relationship she describes with Robert Mapplethorpe was truly inspiring. Patti and Robert were able to inspire each other to reach higher levels of self-realization that translated to the outpouring of an artistic practice that was supported and truly loved by each other. This “museship” is rare, I suppose. But, my muses are the spirits of my sister and father. I hope that they are looking down on me with pride and happiness. My artist friend is a special muse for me. He aptly teaches me the language of art, especially the language of abstraction. My photographer friend inspires me by teaching me the value of risk taking and opening myself up to the world. My friends, in general are an extraordinary support system and I only hope that I can inspire them in return.
Inspiration is all around us – we just need to open our senses and really see.
Life of Riley: I know you’re thinking of attending grad school to hone your craft. Is that still in the works? If so, tell readers about your plans?
O: Grad school is still in the works. But I will take some classes before I attend grad school. My plans are to take photographs everyday and post them on my blog. The blog acts as a safe place for experimentation and a place to push myself daily. This blog, for reasons still unknown, is taking my journey towards new heights. And, sometimes the journey leads to a path never expected.
A self-taught photographer working to better her craft, Olya can be seen walking the streets of New York City, searching for her muse . “Capturing images captures my heart. Natural, humanistic qualities within the urban landscape.” To learn more about Olya , visit her website at www.olyaturcihin.com. You can find daily inspiration from Olya’s photographs by visiting her blog at Olya’s Urban Journal.