Photographer Julia Prohorenkova specialises in the themes of nature, people and the bodily dimensions of both. Her photos focus on forms suggested by movement, whether it’s the hollow of a woman’s neck as she stretches up onto her tiptoes or the humble bending of a flower stem beneath heavy, fully ripe petals. Although Prohorenkova’s works have an almost transcendental painterliness detached from reality, they simultaneously possess a sense of earthly sensuality – something that, at the moment of observation, can awaken almost all the human senses. Prohorenkova has also created a series of photographs for Etíde Botanicals that embodies the sensual, slightly magical and sensory nature of the brand.
Procrastination and connecting to creativity
All I need to get in the mood for a creative day is an organised working environment. If it’s a day devoted to my professional work, a clean, neat table lets me quickly and easily connect to the process at hand and get to work on an assignment for a client. But if it’s a creative day that I’ve devoted to researching, exploring or developing an idea, getting started may take longer. It might also begin with a longer period of procrastination during which I do nothing but clear my mind and surrender myself to feeling.
In silence. Alone
Noise and domestic commotion are external distractions to the creative flow. I can’t work with other people around, and I don’t need music. Silence and solitude are my ideal working conditions. Sometimes, however, I like to turn on some music just to see where it takes me. I do so when I don’t feel the impulse or can’t find my way through a lot of material. The mood of the music might, for example, evoke some more aggressive visual expressions.
Tactile pursuits in the courtyards of Āgenskalns
Tactile sensations connect me to the creative flow much more quickly. Afterwards, I go outside to be in direct contact with nature. I need to observe and touch plants and flowers, to feel their surfaces, textures and shapes. The courtyards of many houses in the Āgenskalns neighbourhood of Riga are full of naturally sown meadow flowers and simple flower beds. And it’s precisely this contrast – the presence of nature in the city – that’s so inspiring! It involves the miracle of looking and noticing. Also, as I wander through these courtyards, I feel a bit like I’m doing something forbidden… But I know I’m not the only one. Professional florists also wander around the green spaces in the city in search of various decorative sprigs and twigs.
Sentimentality, phlox and memories as a safe place
My work is, above all, a process with myself. Whether it’s photographing flowers or anything else, it’s my personal quest – but it also involves interest in and observation of other people’s reactions. The human experience is extremely subjective. One person’s way of looking at something can differ greatly from another’s person’s way of looking at that same thing.
For example, I associate nature with my grandmother’s garden and my childhood summers there, which, I must admit, were somewhat forced on me at the time. The flowers in the flower beds seemed so obvious to me – I even considered some of them ugly – and the blooming of the asters reminded me of returning to school. But sentimentality now brings me back to the phlox, the red tulips and those same asters… My memories of these flowers may be negative, but the experience of them feels like a safe place for me. And through my work, I want to show what I’ve found beautiful in that experience.
Whether it’s a picture or real flowers, they evoke something in everyone. An extrovert as well as a very reserved person may both respond strongly to a romantic photo, while a picture of a modest dandelion may really touch someone I’d otherwise thought of as only interested in expensive and exotic things. But that doesn’t mean I use these conclusions in any way in my work. I simply observe.
The spatial study of flowers
Initially, what fascinated me about photographing flowers was exploring them spatially. Flowers are complex; they’re colourful, textured and spatial. I was intrigued by the many shapes found within a single object as you turn, bend or open it. In addition, a flower changes and transforms every day, and I was also attracted by this aspect of change. Today the flower is like this, tomorrow it’s completely different, and the day after that it’s no longer there at all. If you didn’t manage to take a picture, your chance is gone! It’s a lost moment, a lost opportunity.
After studying the shape and structure of flowers, I began to complicate the process by creating compositions and observing how they complemented each other. This process of study never ends, and my challenge is to translate everything that can be seen in flowers into an image.
A ceaseless exploration of colour
I’m constantly observing colour, light and the relationship between the two. I pay a lot of attention to colours, both in nature and in other people’s work. I’m always asking myself questions, such as why one colour or combination of colours excites me but another does not. Or, how does colour influence the perception of a work, guide the viewer’s gaze or thought, or create a mood in an environment? The nuance, variety and purity of colour in nature really fascinates me. The colours in nature never seem random or in disharmony.
The body as sculpture
When I’m photographing, I see the body as an object. The human being becomes a sculpture that can be turned and changed, and it moves in its own unique way. A lot of that movement is centred in the chest area. There’s a lot of bone, spatiality and dimension in this part of the body, and that always leads to an aesthetic.
Although I’m a portrait photographer, I prefer to work with the body. Photographing the human face is a big responsibility that I sometimes don’t want to take on. It involves a kind of psychological game between the photographer, his or her vision, and how the subject sees or wants to see him- or herself. Besides, there’s so much more that can be expressed with the body. The face is confining; it automatically entails a frame of beauty or ugliness.
The young face of beauty
Nowadays, beauty standards are changing and crumbling. There’s a big shift taking place in both fashion and society. There’s a resistance in people that’s palpable, and everyone’s trying to present something of their own as beautiful. It seems that we’ve come to believe that beauty lies in uniqueness and diversity. It’s difficult to photograph a face that’s too beautiful. It’s difficult to discover something in it, to portray it as real and alive – it’s just beautiful. In the end, it becomes almost like an illustration. Beauty is often only found in the nuances. The experience of beauty is rare and layered enough. I want to linger in it longer, because the first impression may be followed by the next impression. Beauty reveals itself gradually, and I want to give it time and explore it to its depths. The beautiful can also consist of the ugly.
The journey to inner transformation
If we want to experience something authentic or something new, we need to overcome our own mental blocks, to step out of our routines and comfort zones. We need to talk to strangers, go out into nature without fearing an encounter with bugs or snakes… For me, I get the feeling of a journey when I overcome myself. There’s a kind of inner transformation at that moment, an epiphany. I feel like I can contact my inner self, which I can’t otherwise experience in my usual environment.
People one meets as a driving force in professional life
My style has been shaped by the people I’ve met – people who have unexpectedly come into my life and made me look at what I can do and what I probably had no idea I could do. These people have entrusted me with their ideas and allowed me to develop them further. I also like to work collaboratively, cultivating my own ideas with others. I’m currently working with a mentor who guides me towards self-awareness in both my professional and private life. He’s teaching me to look at my own achievements objectively. Artists and professionals often flee from self-identification; they avoid describing their work and prefer to let the work speak for itself. But there’s great power in the ability to express oneself.
Sensuality in shapes and textures
I describe my work as sensual. I find the textures sensual, and the various curves and undulations that evoke associations and feelings. But this sensuality may also be barely perceptible. Likewise, I look for a tactile, sensorial feeling when I photograph flowers and objects. Visually, my work strives to be like a painting, which is actually a fairly hard-to-capture, subjective feeling.
Rubens and art without borders
The Flemish Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens long appealed to me in art. I was fascinated by the interaction between nature and people in his paintings. I’m attracted to art that can evoke almost tactile sensations, and to works in which one can observe an experience rather than a specific object or subject. I’m inspired by the ability of artists to not limit themselves to one medium – then their art has no boundaries, and I believe that this makes it true!
Inspiration is ceaseless
Inspiration flows to us all the time, so it’s important to train our senses to pick it up. Inspiration is information: visual, aural, tactile. It’s all around us and always available. What fascinates me, however, is how artists who have discovered their own unique language, style, subject or technique can become an inspiration for generations, thus enduring and becoming timeless. I believe that inspiration must come from the source – from the purest, most complex, truest wellspring – because then that inspiration has a chance of transforming into something of quality. Otherwise, it becomes weaker with each successive transformation.