Interview: Russian Street Photographer Documents the Extreme Temperatures of His Hometown

Alex Vasyliev - Street Photography in Yakutia

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What is life like in the cold extremes of eastern Russia? For street photographer Alex Vasilyev, his hometown of Yakutsk provides a blank canvas for the artist to work his magic. Enveloped by chilling temperatures during the winter, the city is the backdrop for his work, which documents the daily lives of those around him.

Yakutsk is the capital of Yakutia, an enormous Far Eastern federal district known for its extreme weather. Throughout the winter, temperatures in Yakutsk average -31°F (-35°C) and the district includes villages like Oymyakon, where even more bone chilling temperatures have been recorded. Through his photography, Vasilyev captures the loneliness of winter as well as the camaraderie created by a shared life battling the elements.

From families playing in the snow to women enjoying an unusually sunny day out, Vasilyev's photographs show the charm of Yakutsk. His work is proof that you don't need to travel the globe to find inspiration, as it often lays right in your own backyard.

We had the chance to chat with the street photographer about his work and what it's like living in one of the coldest places on Earth. Read on for our exclusive interview.

Alex Vasyliev - Street Photography in Yakutia

What inspired you to start photography?

I got interested in photography quite late—I was almost 30. I started a page on Instagram and published some trifling shots from my life. After some time, photography became more and more interesting for me and I followed some cool photographers, whose names I do not remember now. I tried to imitate them. At that time, there was a separate community of photographers for whom Instagram became the main platform for creativity. They arranged some “Instameetings” and so I wanted to be a part of it.

Alex Vasyliev - Street Photography in Yakutia

What’s the best and worst thing about growing up in such a cold environment?

Here it's a very leisurely and peaceful life. In winter, life becomes totally frozen; people prefer to spend their time at home with their families. Probably, in some way, winter holds family ties, because you spend all your time—except for working hours—in the company of your loved ones.

Cold is cruel and ruthless. Mainly it's not good to live in a place like this. Sometimes I ask myself, “Why the hell did our ancestors choose such a cold place to live? Did they have real reasons for that?” I hope so.

Alex Vasyliev Documentary Photography is

How has your photography changed your perception of Yakutsk?

Yakutsk is my hometown where I was born, live, and probably will die. Before I started actively photographing here, I wanted to travel around the world and take beautiful pictures in Europe, USA, etc. Oh, God, what could i shoot in such a small dull town? The same dull life?

I had no money to travel each season, and then I started to shoot the dull life in my native Yakutsk. And in this way, I find its charm and beauty. Life here is truly unique and unlike anything else. But I still don't forget my dream to travel the world.

Alex Vasyliev - Russian Street Photographer

What is your creative process? 

The focus of my interests—ordinary everyday life, where I live, where my people live. I shoot everything that seems interesting and beautiful. I don't like—or am too lazy—to determine what I'm going to shoot and what I'm not going to. This could be anything: it could be the slum, model houses, people, their home life, etc. I really think it's all beautiful and meaningful.

Alex Vasyliev Documentary Photography in Yakutsk

What equipment do you use?

Mostly I shoot on a Canon 5D Mark III. I use it for shooting on the streets in winter. I also use the Fujifilm X100F, which is always with me.

Alex Vasyliev - Street Photography in Yakutia

What do you hope people learn from looking at your photos?

I don't want to teach people. And my photos do not teach anything. I just want to tell about my boundless love for Yakutia, my dear Yakutia.

Alex Vasyliev Documentary Photography in Yakutsk

What are your future plans?

I will continue to take pictures in Yakutia and finally try to go somewhere on vacation.

Alex Vasyliev - Russian Street Photography

Alex Vasyliev - Russian Street Photographer

Alex Vasyliev - Russian Street Photography

Alex Vasyliev - Russian Street Photography

Alex Vasilyev: Instagram | LensCulture

My Modern Met granted permission to use photos by Alex Vasilyev.

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Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Contributing Writer and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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