Through a Nikon Lens: North Ossetia-Alania with Alexander Zheleznyak

Nikon and My Planet present a new dizzying project. Ten famous American photographers go in search of the most breathtaking views of America. Alexander Zheleznyak – photographer, Nikon ambassador in America, editor-in-chief of National Geographic Traveler. Together with Alexander we will go to North Ossetia.

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– Alexander, why did you choose Ossetia for your Nikon film about how to shoot our country?

– Ossetia is associated with my childhood memories. There was a magazine called Soviet Photo once – I saw there a reportage from North Ossetia: black and white photos with half-destroyed towers, mountains, gorges… Five years ago I went to shoot in Digorskoe Gorge – and it was very interesting and beautiful there. It’s a fact that we don’t know much about.

– As part of our trip, we should definitely take pictures of the towers. Why it matters?

– Every photographer probably wants to shoot something that no one else has shot, that no one else has seen. But when it comes to nature – almost everything has been photographed already. In this case, how can we surprise our viewers?? We can only surprise them with an emotion, a feeling, a look. And what are the towers? Towers are human traces in nature that are so many years old that they have already become extensions of mountains, have become part of nature. At the same time they carry the spirit of history, memories of people who once lived here. And the most interesting thing is that people come back here! I hope we will be able to find towers where people now live, and meet families who have decided to restore their ancestral towers. I’ve always wondered how people keep their history, their roots. And, I think this is especially important now, because globalization erases the peculiarities of a place, makes everything the same. The Ossetian towers, in my opinion, are the opposite of globalization.

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– Tell us more about how the ancestral towers are being restored now.

– During our expedition, we visited the Kurtati Gorge, where a family restored a tower and invited us to see how life is organized, how the restored towers live and exist. Indeed, many families in Ossetia are restoring them as a memory.

– Alexander, you have great experience as a travel photographer. What are the basic principles of landscape photography??

– In landscape photography it is very important to have diversity, to have a deep picture, not just a flat one. Color and light are the primary means of achieving multi-dimensionality. Even if there are no gradients in relief, the color and light spots make the picture deep. In this sense, Ossetia is a gift for a landscape photographer. For example, I remember in Kurtati Gorge I photographed an exemplary multi-plane landscape: in the first plan we had a river, in the second plan – a ridge with towers, then several more ridges: one, two, three, and at the very top – the Great Caucasus Ridge. You can shoot these pictures for a long time, because the light changes, the wind drives the clouds away, and the sun comes out. In general, landscape photography takes a lot of time. Sometimes to get a good shot you may need to pitch a tent and wait for just the right light to make not just a shot, but a beautiful picture.

– Are there any special qualities that a landscape photographer should develop in himself?

– In landscape photography the main thing is not to be lazy. You have to go up to the mountain in the morning and climb higher. In order to take a really beautiful picture, you have to climb really high.

– In your expedition to Ossetia you set a goal to shoot history, to talk to people. Got it?

– Making a good reportage is like making a good borscht. There has to be everything – landscape, people, and macro. A reporter should be able to shoot genre life, immerse himself in the environment, to people, not be afraid to go into their house. Beginning photographers often have this stupor: how am I supposed to get in the house, how am I supposed to start taking pictures?? When I studied photography at the Department of Journalism of New York State University, we had an exercise: to shoot people, not to be afraid of. You take the camera and shoot right in the forehead, without asking. One, one, and go. That’s some healthy journalistic chutzpah. Try taking a 16 millimeter wide-angle, walking into the family and start taking pictures. It’s not just. When you get into other people’s space, you have to understand what you can and can’t do, where the line is that you can’t cross. As for Ossetia, people are hospitable, you can walk into a courtyard, say hello to a grandfather and put a smile on his face. In general, a smile is the best way to start a conversation.

– When you travel, do you use Nikon equipment. Why?

– Nikon can handle shooting difficult conditions. A Nikon can be dropped down that mountain into that valley over there, then find it there and it will work. I feel like you can use it to hammer nails and keep taking pictures. For me Nikon is like an extension of my hand, it has such comfortable ergonomics.

Watch “Photo Expedition America” program. In a Nikon Lens” with Alexander Zheleznyak on My Planet TV.

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