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A Good Photographer Should Also Be a Good Psychologist

Viktoria Savelyeva on revealing the model’s personality in photography
A Good Photographer Should Also Be a Good Psychologist

Photography and psychology are two interrelated fields that have found their reflection in the activities of Viktoria Savelyeva. The expert believes that a photographer must be able to feel people subtly to reveal a model’s personality during a phoshoot and to show a real and living person. In her interview with the Global Women Media, Viktoria Savelyeva talked about her vision of the most difficult and the most interesting aspects of her work and shared the story of her path from a novice photographer to a master collaborating with the world-known brands.

Виктория_Савельева_0T.jpg Viktoria Savelyeva
photographer, psychologist

Viktoria Savelyeva has the experience of collaborating with world-known brands from different countries. Her works have been presented in Harper’s Bazaar, DI Magazine, Ellements Magazine, OK, Vogue, Cabinet de l'Art, INVOISE, and other fashion-focused publications. The photographer took part in shooting advertising campaigns in Dubai, Greece, the USA, and Italy. Today, Viktoria Savelyeva keeps collaborating with world-level fashion agencies, works in private and fashion photography, and also undergoes training in the field of psychology.

– How did your career in the field of photography begin?

– That’s not a romantic story at all. I studied at the A.N. Kosygin Moscow State Textile University, at the Faculty of Graphic Design. In the third year of our studies, we had a compulsory academic term devoted to photography. We bought SLR cameras, tried to take pictures, and studied image processing software. Everything was pretty simple at first time. The course on photography was over but I still had the camera and acquired basic knowledge. I decided that it would be interesting to continue doing photography.

Today, photography means a world to me. It has shaped me as a person and it helps me choose the paths for my further development. For example, photography led me to studying at the Higher School of Economics where I am getting a Master’s degree in psychoanalysis. Now I am finishing my studies.


– How are photography and psychology interrelated?

– These two fields are very closely intertwined. In a week, I am defending my dissertation devoted to the identification of shame through the lens of photography.

As I’ve noticed over the years of doing photography, many people coming to my photoshoots tell me that they don’t like to be photographed because they don’t look good in photos. They still use my services and I've always been very curious to find out why they do that. That thought was in focus of my attention for a long time. Finally, it became the basis of my Master’s thesis. It turned out that the subject is complex but very interesting.

Like when dealing with many other phenomena in psychology, we can trace a person’s challenging relationship with the camera by looking back at his or her childhood. Jacques Lacan has a ‘mirror stage theory’, in which he says that the first time people come into this world, they see themselves in the reflection of their mothers’ eyes. Of course, in the future, the children will look at themselves in the mirror many times. That will largely influence their attitude to themselves and their perception of themselves.


It often happens that a person has a false ‘self’, to which he or she aspires. In this case, we often want to be loved as we are. That creates a conflict that manifesting itself brightly during a photoshoot.

People want others to see them as perfect and real at the same time. That is a very difficult task for photographer. The process of photographing can be compared to that very reflection of a child in the eyes of the mother. The photographer should look at the model with admiration, sincerely see the beauty in the person, and strive to express the best in the pictures.

The process of photographing can be compared to a psychological session. I try to talk a lot with the models to reveal their true self. Sometimes my clients are people who seem very confident and unflappable from the outside. However, during the conversation, I see them in a completely different light: as fragile and vulnerable individuals. After that, we have really ‘living’ photographs.

A person always reveals him- or herself in communication. The main thing for a photographer is not to miss the moment of sincerity but to grasp it.

When I just started doing photography, the most difficult thing for me was to find a point of contact with people. I had clients of different ages and professions and all of them were unlike one another in terms of their characters and attitudes to photography. To make it possible for each of them to reveal themselves, I needed to use individual approaches.

We talked about all kinds of topics, both professional and personal. Oftentimes, we discussed problems because people show their true self most openly through their worries and concerns. I often came home after work with a headache. On the one hand, I loved that I could watch such a disclosure and be a part of it. On the other hand, I absorbed all the emotions and feelings of the models.

When I understood that photography was not only a creative process but also a kind of therapy, I decided to go deeper into psychology. Photography does not tolerate falsehood. A good photographer should also be a good psychologist.


– Many people know you as a fashion photographer. What particularly excites you in working with fashion brands?

– I work a lot with private photoshoots. They are personal stories that are usually not published for the wide audience. However, fashion photos are created for popular magazines and advertising posters. That’s why many people see and know them.

Why am I excited about that field? I’m a girl and I like the very process of working with the team including makeup artists, stylists, and models. We work with a huge amount of beautiful clothes and accessories, with people who are always aware of the latest fashion trends.

Fashion photography is always a story about beauty. I love the fact that I can reflect the beautiful in my images as a photographer.

At the same time, the most challenging thing in working with brands is about bringing something of my own to the photograph. Sometimes I see a beautiful image and I immediately have a clear vision of how I would like to portray it. However, the main task of the brand is to sell the product. Therefore, fashion photography is accompanied by a number of criteria to be met during the shoot. The customer should see not the model but the product and the way the clothes fit. I like working with brands. However, when I want to do photography creatively as an artist, I do that in my spare time.


– You recently opened an exhibition. Does it feature your photos that you consider as your artworks?

– Yes, that’s my first exhibition. As a photographer, I am extremely excited by the moment when I’m finally able to show my works to a wide audience.

The exhibition is especially valuable because it helps not only the viewer but also me look at my works from a different perspective. Printed photographs placed in space are perceived completely differently if compared to images on a computer or phone screen.

The Casual Observations exhibition takes place at the co-working centre at Komsomolsky Prospekt 27/5. You can visit it until June 22, admission is free.

The exhibition has such a name because it combines photos that I made not as part of a planned shooting but quite spontaneously. Those are ‘living’ photos, in which I expressed my own view and showed what I considered beautiful.

One of my works echoed greatly in the hearts of my audience. That photo showed the model without retouching and fixed smile. I heard people discussing the sloppy manicure of the woman in the picture. However, that ‘visual drawback’ was my deliberate solution.

The photo was taken when we finished a big photoshoot in 35-degree heat and got caught in the rain. The model and I ran into the hotel room to make it possible for her to change her clothes. The woman was very tired, so she just put on and sat on the sofa. That’s when I took her picture. She was so real and living that I didn’t want to change or edit her nails or remove the loose strands. I captured her just in her real state.


– Photography for you is not only art but also a profession and a way of making money. Artists can rarely combine these facets successfully. What tips would you share with aspiring photographers?

– Firstly, be honest and understand clearly what pictures you take to express your vision and what photos are taken according to a customer’s order. Secondly, don’t be afraid. Fear and indecisiveness hinder the development of many first-time authors.

Yes, someone may not like your pictures and sometimes you may be rejected. However, there will be neither failures nor success unless you try.

A man who coincidentally became my mentor played a big role in my life. When I had just started doing photography and sent my photos to an electronic magazine, I received a call with an offer to work in Izhevsk and take pictures for a big boutique store. I had no idea how far the city was from Moscow and didn’t know what to expect in the new place. However, I agreed to go there.

The owner of the boutique store was a wonderful man who saw my potential and literally took me under his wing. He showed me many examples of quality photographs and explained their value and features. I remember a moment when he gave me a book with pictures of nude models. He saw my embarrassment and explained: a photographer is a sexless person who should see beauty and reflect shapes, colours, and emotions in photos.

I failed a lot of photoshoots and made a lot of mistakes but gained valuable experience. When I first sent my photos to print, I had no idea of colourproof and didn’t know that I had to print a test version beforehand. That resulted in a printed magazine with pictures of models with crimson faces.

I thought my career would end there without starting. However, I was lucky to have a mentor and had the opportunity to learn from my own mistakes.

I wish every person to meet such mentors. I love the phrase that we meet opportunities in our way every day and it’s up to us whether to pick them or pass them by. I was afraid of going to a new city and taking a new job but that gave a strong impetus to my development.


– What inspires you?

– I am inspired by absolutely everything. For example, I can see an older couple laughing or talking to each other in the Metro and immediately think of images and scenes to shoot. I get ideas from anywhere: observing people, watching movies, reading books, etc.

Even smells can inspire me. For example, right now in the summer, you can feel the ionized air in some places outdoors. That special atmosphere can’t be compared to that of other seasons. Such a smell gives me a number of associations and sensations that I want to convey through photography.

When I worked abroad, I was very inspired by architecture and nature. That may sound unusual but I believe that even the sun shines differently in different countries. The grass here and that in more southern regions give completely different shades when reflected on a model’s skin. You may not see that in real life but that is very noticeable in the photo.


– What is your vision of yourself in 10-20 years?

– That’s an interesting question and I think a lot about that. I wonder whether I will go deeper into psychology or stay in photography. These questions are especially relevant today, when the world is so unstable and changeable. We can’t even know for sure what will happen tomorrow.

Anyway, I would really like to continue to study psychology more deeply. I want to explore important topics and transmit them to the world by means of photography. That’s why, I believe, my Master's thesis is not the end but only the beginning of the chosen path.

When I started studying psychology, I was greatly fascinated by that new field of knowledge. I even decided that I would gradually distance myself from photography. The paradox lies in the fact that, on the contrary, I started doing photography more actively. Today, photography and psychology for me are two inseparable things. I find it simply impossible to give up any of them.


– What would you wish people of the world?

– To experiment, not to focus too much on only one thing. Today, there are a lot of workshops, courses, activities to any liking. Everyone can find something interesting and exciting for him- or herself. The main thing is to try.

I would even say: don’t walk the same road every day when the world around us is so diverse. Sometimes we just need to change the vector of our movement a little to see the chance that we have always avoided.

Marina Volynkina, Viktoria Gusakova, Global Women Media news agency

Translated by Nikolay Gavrilov

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Global Women Media news agency

© 1996-2021 The Institute for the Humanities and Information Technologies
All rights reserved Global Women Media news agency