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Meet BTP Team: Interview with Photographer Elena Usacheva

Meet BTP Team: Interview with Photographer Elena Usacheva

We continue the series of interviews with photographers at Better Travel Photos who share their knowledge and passion for photography with our participants in both Paris and London. This time we are excited to introduce you to our photographer Elena Usacheva!

As a journalist and photographer, Elena traveled all the way from Yakutsk in Siberia, Russia, to pursue her dream and continue her studies in the City of Light. Her sunny and easy-going personality shines through the photos she takes: a portrait session with Elena is always romantic and fun. When guiding Photo Tours, she combines both her creative vision and technical instruction in the most inspiring way. Let's ask Elena a few questions, as she has many stories to tell....

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BTP: Elena, how did you discover photography and how long have you been doing this?

Elena: My earliest childhood memories are of my late father’s love of photography: he had a “Zenith”with a 50 mm lens, which was very popular at the time. Now and then he would transform my elder sister’s bedroom into a dark room where we would sit for hours developing film and print photos with an old enlarger. The process was long, there was the smell of chemicals in the air and every successful print was a priceless treasure. So my father was my first photography master.

I grew up in Northern Russia in Yakutia, the coldest place in the world where it can drop to -50C in the winter and taking photos in such conditions was a big achievement. Now, every time I struggle to take photos because of poor weather I think about how difficult it was for him and motivate myself to overcome my fears. Although photography was a hobby for my father, it wasn’t for me and in fact I felt more comfortable posing on other side of the camera. Starting at the age of 12, I worked at the local television station on a teenage show and still have a lot of fond memories and friends from those early days of broadcasting. My passion for television lead me to Saint Petersburg, where I studied in the Faculty of Journalism. It was in my third year of University that I discovered photography as a form of pure journalism, where the event and story were the most important.

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I was captivated the first time I saw photographs by Robert Capa and learned about “the decisive moment” by Henri Cartier-Bresson, read Susan Sontag ”On photography” and Roland Barthes “Camera Lucida”. These books are still a source of inspiration for me. Some people find this very theoretical but I love it and feel that writing about photography and analysing your own images with different references in art is the way to grow and develop your own vision. My experiences and understanding of these artists and journalists have been instrumental in the development of my profession, allowed me to compose better and react impartially to photographic events.

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BTP: What type of subjects do you enjoy photographing the most?

Elena: At the moment, portrait photography takes 70 percent of my time and I try to keep a balance with street photography, however my passion is night photography. Walking the streets in the evenings, waiting for the moment when the sky becomes pink, purple or electric blue, buildings wear orange-yellow Parisian light and the city becomes peaceful. This is my moment of meditation.

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BTP: What brought you to Paris? What does it mean to you to be a photographer in the City of Light?

Elena: Ernest Hemingway said, “Paris is a moveable feast”. You can only understand this phrase by living here and see how this magnificent city is a Mecca for artists. I have never been in love like I am in love with Paris. I originally came to Paris to study Mix Media in 2009. However I did not speak French and had to spend two years perfecting my language skills before I could continue with my initial project.

Then I started to do portraits and I was initially shy to take photographs of people outside the context of an organized event. Honestly, it scared me to think that some people might not like my photos so I gave myself the goal to do portrait sessions for free for two months to get over this fear. Later on, a friend of mine asked me to photograph her wedding and I realized how much I liked it. That's how it all started! Photographing in the City of Light revealed to me my own romantic feelings and I am forever trying to portray this in my photographs.

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BTP: You have been doing photo tours and portrait sessions for five years. How would you describe your current photographic / teaching approach?

Elena: My work at Better Travel Photos has been an amazing experience that has changed my life. I met Sophie Pasquet, the founder of the company under the Louvre Pyramid where she took me for one of her participants on a tour while I was waiting for a couple to attend one of my portrait sessions. We talked, exchanged emails, decided to work together, started training and I loved it from the first moment!

I always felt that I have lots to express about my photography vision and I relish the opportunity to share with people my technical knowledge but also tips on capturing the moment.

My teaching approach starts with some technical points. It is no surprise that the most incredible photos are  taken by accident, hence the need for a photographer to be technically prepared for conditions where he/she takes pictures to capture these spontaneous moments. Personally I believe that 'feelings' are the most important elements to create photographs. What you put into your photos reflects how you feel at that particular moment.

At the beginning of any photo tour I like to ask the kind of photos my participants enjoy taking and the skill level they consider to have. From there, we start with the basics and practice how we can use different settings with different situations, try to develop themes and create future work projects or photo series.

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BTP: What are your sources of inspiration? Which photographers most influenced you?

Elena: My biggest source of inspiration are Elliott Erwitt and Henri Cartier-Bresson. I also love the website 'Masters of Photography' where I can loose myself and spend hours. For architectural photography I’m inspired by Alexandre Rodtchenko who was the founder of the constructivist style. His bird's eye view photographs are breathtaking.

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BTP: We have all heard of your love for film cameras, such as Leica and a few others. What makes you pick up a film camera instead of digital and what does film photography mean to you?

Elena: My love for film photography started with creating a pinhole camera with a box of matches. Honestly I didn’t get great results, but there was something magical about it. Now I feel like my little Leica film camera makes me invisible. I can take more candid shots without attracting any attention. I like that its blurry, grainy, hazy and everything that makes these pictures perfect for my artistic vision.

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BTP: What’s the photograph you are the most proud of?

Elena: Hmmm. My best pictures are those that I will take in the future and I want to continue working on my artistic projects such as people and urban space or people and nature.

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Thank you for sharing your insights, Elena! For more of Elena's travel photography and portrait sessions, see her portfolio on our website and follow us on social media.

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About the Author

Nadia Gric

Nadia Gric

Nadia is passionate about the visual aspect of life and the personalities she meets along the way. Living in the heart of Paris, Nadia never stops exploring the City of Light through her camera and readily shares her knowledge and love for photography.