Valery Bliznyuk, photographer

A love of nature developed in Valery Bliznyuk from an early age. His family lived on Sakhalin—amidst taiga, volcanoes, rivers and lakes—when he was between 3 and 7 years old. Spending such formative years amidst such stark natural beauty, Bliznyuk said, led him to a life as an artist.

In 1983 Bliznyuk entered Moscow’s Surikov Art Institute. He studied at the Graphics Faculty, learning the art of poster and lithograph making. But, in those times, it was a requirement to attend lectures on “scientific communism.” Bliznyuk hated the oxymoronic subject and dreaded the exam. Yet he was lucky enough to have an identical twin brother, Andrei, who knew how to “talk the talk” on communism, and who took the exam for him, with no one, not even Valery’s closest friends, noticing the difference.

Bliznyuk  (which, ironically, means “twin” in Ukrainian), graduated from the Surikov Institute in 1990 and worked for several years as a graphic artist, in parallel studying photography and iconography. But, by 1996, he had fully dedicated himself to the art of photography, which he had begun studying while still in art school. Indeed, in 1988, his exhibit of photos of historic monuments in Moscow’s ancient Lefortovo district helped torpedo a project that would have destroyed many of these monuments.

Why did he pursue photography and art in parallel? “It sometimes happens that when you are walking somewhere,” Bliznyuk said, “far from the daily noise and fuss, you suddenly realize that what you have seen has entered your mind and become important and dear to you. And you don’t want that magical feeling to pass. Sometimes the artist’s brush and color texture can convey it better, but sometimes there is nothing like a photo to convey your emotions in the most truthful and accurate fashion. Painting and photography are two different types of art, but in this case they are united by one theme, the desire to convey that special feeling of silence and solace. Striving for quiet, thoughtful contemplation of beauty is the artist’s goal.”

Ever the perfectionist, Bliznyuk will spend years getting the shot he wants. “In some cases, it is actually harder to work in photography,” he explained. “When I was a an artist, I could change the color of the sky to make it fit. In photography, sometimes the composition is fine and everything fits, but then the sky is not right. But you can’t change it. ... So, I write down my forecast as to what would be the best time of the day to take that specific picture and then come back.”

For example, the photo of the White Sea behind Bliznyuk in the photo above took him 12 years to capture just right. “If I wasn’t satisfied, I would come back next year, to catch the moment … This shot—a white night on the White Sea—is the White Sea I love. I had many other good shots, of course, but when I shot this one, I knew I had done what I sought ... And once you fix this photo, it is engraved in your soul and memory. You look at the photo and you can reproduce the very senses and feelings you had back then. This is what is dearest to me: to remind myself of what I felt when I was there.”

Bliznyuk’s favorite subject for his art is the Russian North. He came to love the region after spending a month in Karelia while still a student at an Art Lyceum. Even the smell of the sea is different up North, he says, “it is more refined, with a more varied palate.”

Of course, it is not easy surviving as an artist or photographer here. “Unfortunately,” Bliznyuk said, “in Russia there is no well-established market for photography as there is in Europe. Here people think, ‘Hey, I can take pictures too, I have a camera.’” Thus, most of his customers are artists or people who have been abroad and know that photography is an art. He considers it the highest reward when another professional photographer buys one of his works, for “these people speak the same artistic language.”

And yet, Bliznyuk does not take part in collective photo exhibits. “I am not with the photographers, I am with the artists,” he said. “I have not yet found  a photo exhibition which would be close to me in terms of senses and feeling. It’s either sensationalist commercial exhibits where I don’t want to be—like reportage savoring blood and violence, or deliberately absurd stuff like shots of top models against the background of a coffin. This is just meant to shock people—and such games with the camera are unacceptable for me. Art is too fine a tool. It is meant to elevate the people’s soul, not to shock them.”

It is in this spirit that Valery is bringing up his two daughters—Daria, 8 and Katerina, 6—who both enjoy art and photography. His wife Natalia also attended the Surikov Institute and is an accomplished artist who paints with oils. Little surprise, then, that young Dasha and Katya say they want to follow in their parents’ footsteps …

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