Petr Barabaka found his first camera in a Moscow dump.
He described the battered Kiev-19 that he hauled out of the trash as a “Soviet Nikon, of sorts.”
Regardless of its quality, it served an essential purpose: since that day, Barabaka has made a steady stream of images on a wide variety of cameras, growing increasingly connected to his photographic vision of the world. Today, his standby is a Leica M7, and he prefers black and white film.
“Nowadays, you often hear or see people drawing particular attention to their use of film, like they expect it to impart some significance to their creation. That’s complete nonsense. Poor shots won’t become great due to being shot on film. You should shoot on whatever feels comfortable to you and whatever you like best,” he writes via email. Personally, he said, he enjoys the tactile engagement with film. “After all, it’s nice to hold negatives and prints in your hands.”
A skateboarder since 1999, Barabaka got his start in photography with that old Kiev and his board in tow, documenting the rough-and-tumble Russian skater life. But his sensitivity to visual material began long before he found that camera—he had always been drawn to visual works, whether Frank Miller’s comics or Caravaggio’s paintings. Still, photography did seem to unlock something new inside of him. He was quickly drawn to the medium: “I just wanted to shoot. I don’t feel spiritually balanced without it.”
Barabaka says that he rarely experiences issues on the street due to the presence of his camera. Perhaps this is a result of the boldness inherent in many skaters’ personalities—they frequently disregard the rules and skate where it isn’t allowed. Of course, a photographer has to be a bit more considerate of his subjects. Still, deciding whether or not to ask permission depends on the situation. Some moments simply must be captured, as his oft-kinetic photographs clearly show.
Although he has less time for boarding these days, he still enjoys the skater community, a binding force in a country that he says is rapidly absorbing people from across the globe, yet still lacking an identity. “Skateboarding in Russia isn’t easy,” he said. “The weather conditions in our country are really severe in most regions—snow covers the streets for half the year or more. And there are almost no covered parks; if there are, they’re built by the skaters themselves. Not to mention, the rent in Moscow is insane, and there’s no opportunity to open a good big park without sponsors…”
But maybe that same difficulty is the catalyst that brings the community together: “Skateboarding unites very creative and interesting people. It encourages you to look at the world in a broader, more open way.” A bit like photography, perhaps?
A big fan of cinematography, including documentary cinema, Barabaka produces skate videos occasionally, including a film about a skate trip to the “Golden Ring” in Russia’s remote northeast.
Despite such side projects, photography is definitely his focus. He writes, “I always act according to what my inner feeling tells me. Often I’m interested in communicating with the people I shoot, getting to know their story and thoughts, listening to what they dream about, what they want from life,” he said.
As for the message he wants his photography to convey to the world, Barabaka said “message” is perhaps too bold of a word: “These days everyone thinks that the world needs to hear their opinion and everyone is trying to voice it. Take social media, for example. Every day on Facebook, people express their views on different issues, but ultimately everyone is only interested in their own opinion. This is an era of egotism in practice…an artist, meanwhile, should search for his message to the world throughout his whole life.”
For him, he said, the real power of images is conveying emotion. He wants people looking at his photographs to feel something, whether it be loneliness, joy, disaffection or even disgust.
“But most importantly, not indifference.”
Editors’ note: Some portions of the quoted text have been edited for clarity.
If you enjoyed this article, you might also like one of these previous features: Stockholm Blues, Micke Berg’s black-and-white ode to Sweden’s capital; The 100 Days Before the Olympic Games, a series on the impact of the festival on the Russian city of Sochi; and The Place of No Roads, thoughtful, dream-like documentation of an abandoned town in the “utmost North” of Russia.