Russian photographer Dmitry Markov‘s use of an iPhone was born of necessity. After his camera was stolen from his room at the orphanage where he was volunteering, his telephone served his creative needs. And from there, he hasn’t looked back. Now, he’s amassed over 200,000 followers on his Instagram account, where he documents life in small-town Russian.
Markov began as a journalist, but transitioned into photography for its ability to visually show what can often be missed in writing. “Photography allows you to grasp states and feelings that are difficult to describe with text,” Markov tells My Modern Met. And for Markov, photography is more than a creative outlet, it’s also a social tool to explore the world around him. This is especially important to the photographer, who volunteered at an orphanage in Pskov for seven years. Located close to the border of Estonia, this is the town Markov now calls home.
“I’d been taking photos for about a year when I decided to dedicate my passion for a useful goal,” he shares. “I started to travel with volunteers to orphanages and shoot reportages for them. Over time, I became very interested in this topic. I started working with orphans (as a tutor) and focused on social problems in photography.”
Indeed, many of the protagonists of Markov’s photos are friends and acquaintances, including some of the orphans he worked with. Seeing them grow and develop, in good times and bad, Markov’s photos are a testament to the ups and downs of his volunteering. In fact, he equated his time with them to raising a Tamagotchi digital pet. “You get this little monster that you feed and feed and feed, and the f***er grows and grows and grows, and it feels like everything in life is not in vain, not in vain, not in vain.”
Though he stopped working at the orphanage in 2012, Markov continues to use his photography to shine a light on the good and bad of daily life on Russia’s gritty streets. While some may criticize his work as bleak, he’s not worried about opinions. “I chose for myself a theme in life and work, a topic that interests me and that worries me as a person.”
Perhaps, rather than bleak, Markov’s work is honest. From touching moments to emotionally charged vignettes, his lens gives an unflinchingly real depiction of life, without the sugar coating. He’s able to dive straight into the emotional core of each scene, whether a portrait of one of the orphans he cared for or a candid street scene. And his dedication to social projects gives a human face to those that are often ignored or left behind.
For him, perhaps it’s this work that brings things full circle. Growing up in the factory town of Pushkino, he was in a world where it was normal to hang out in abandoned buildings and regularly get into fights. It was only later, he realized the environment wasn’t normal. By working with older orphans, helping them integrate into society and live independently, and sharing their stories with the world, he’s also providing them with the creative role model he missed out on while growing up. Imagine, all this from an iPhone.
See more of Markov’s photography in his book #draft, now available in English.
Photographer Dmitry Markov uses his iPhone to give visibility to social causes in small Russian towns.
He spent many years volunteering at an orphanage, working with older kids who often are depicted in his photos.
He’s now relocated permanently to Pskov, where the orphanage is located, and continues to document daily life on the gritty streets.
His work has amassed him a large Instagram following and he was awarded a Getty Images Instagram Grant to continue his work.
Dmitry Markov: Instagram