My country of origin: Belarus

I’m a travel/documentary photographer. Much of my work is set in what most would consider exotic places, but my recent project has taken place in Belarus, the country where I was born. It’s involved my friends and my family. It’s the most personal project I’ve ever shot.

My relationship with Panasonic is closely connected with this project. Very rarely does a camera change or enhance the way a photographer shoots, but in all honesty I feel that this is what’s happened with me and the Panasonic GX series cameras.

For years I’d been wishing for a powerful, small camera that would allow me to do everything I did with my DSLRs. My wish finally came true when I got the Panasonic GX7. What happens when you have this powerful, small camera in your hands? Firstly and most importantly, you can take it everywhere. A camera is a tool, but, when it’s heavy, you think twice about bringing this tool along with you. It becomes a chore. This is how I felt with my DSLRs and DSLR lenses.

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I would only take the DSLR with me when I thought I’d come across subjects truly “worthy” of being photographed. Of course what’s “worthy” is so subjective and you can miss out on many. For a long time I only focused on the exotic and ignored the fascinating world, the people or the more subtle things which were right under my nose. In large part, it was because I simply wanted to give my shoulder a break from carrying the “large beast”

Having a camera with you all the time makes a world of difference. Suddenly whenever I’d see anything that grabbed my attention I started asking myself “Why not try this?” Soon the people in my inner circle became my photo subjects.

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First it was my friend Yuri, who lives in an isolated countryside house. He’s a fascinating character with a strong connection to nature. In many ways, he’s similar to the people I photographed in the faraway, exotic lands. The advantage is that I perfectly understand his language, his culture and because we’re friends I have access to shoot whatever I want.

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I make sure to have a GX camera by my side all the time when I am around Yuri. Though something photographically interesting doesn’t happen all the time, something could happen at any moment. The above image is a good example. I remember that Yuri and his friend and I were having a conversation, suddenly he got really animated and there was a mirror to the side of him. I felt the moment had the makings of a strong image. With the camera right there I could react photographically just in time to capture it.

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As I started photographing Yuri, it only seemed natural that I expand what I shoot to include other people in his world. His neighbors and his friends soon became my subjects too. In fact some of his friends became my friends and I photographed them in-depth as well.

The beauty of Belarus

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An interesting thing happened when I adopted this new attitude towards photography, with a camera always by my side. Almost everything and everyone became a potential photo subject. I started photographing my own family. When my daughter was born she became part of this project as well. By photographing people close to me I was exploring my own world, my own feelings.

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Through the children of my cousins I was reliving my own childhood memories and challenging myself to represent them photographically. For example, in the photo above, my niece Masha is riding her bike near a bus stop that’s existed in the same spot for almost 30 years. I might have done the same thing in that very spot when I was her age and I remember the feeling of disappointment as the weather was often cloudy during the summer, as it is here.

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During this project I’ve put the GX cameras through some rough situations. I’ve shot with a GX8 in the rain. In incredible humidity in a Russian banya (sauna).

I’ve taken all the GX cameras under water, using a protective case. I love being able to do that and not worrying that something will stop functioning. Like I said, a camera is a tool. It’s something to be used, not a decorative object or a fashion accessory to marvel at.

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There are few features in the GX cameras that I particularly like. The silent shutter option has allowed me to be really discrete and candid. With the images above I was as close as one can be to a fly on the wall. The subjects knew that I was there to take photos, but because they didn’t hear the clicking, they didn’t react. I didn’t interrupt the flow of what they were doing. For a documentary photographer this is crucial. I don’t want people acting, I want the real, the raw. I want the magical moments of interaction between people.

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Touch focus is one of my favorite features. Panasonic was one of the first to implement it in a serious pro-level camera. By touching the area I want in focus, I’m essentially telling the camera – this is the spot I want the focus to be on. In practical terms this means that I very rarely miss focus, even in scenes with movement, like the one above. My nephew was playing with my daughter and suddenly started racing around. Those storm clouds in the background were a great backdrop. There was very little time to react, the camera was already switched on. All I had to do was point, touch the screen to focus and click.

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