Dmitry Azarov, photographer

Russian politicians have reason to fear Kommersant photographer Dmitry Azarov: he has an eye for their “human side,” for catching them in unexpected and often undignified moments (see photo essay, page 52). So skilled is Azarov’s eye that in 2002 he was awarded the “Golden Eye” prize from Russia’s Association of Professional Photographers (he is pictured here at center, receiving the award). It is a weighty professional award. “A compliment from a photographer colleague is the highest appraisal of one’s work,” Azarov said. “Fellow photographers rarely comment on each other’s work. So when they tell you something positive about your photos, it really means you wowed them!”

Azarov said he loves the challenge of shooting his own view of people and things. “Two people can shoot the same scene, the same event,” he said, “but the result will always be different.” What makes Azarov’s photos for Kommersant different is that he shows all his subjects as human beings. There is no submissive reverence for the Powers That Be. Arkady Volsky, Boris Nemtsov, Irina Khakamata, Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Vladimir Putin all look “new” in Azarov’s work.

Actually, Azarov’s eery photo of President Putin (see page 52) earned him first prize in the Interphoto-2001 contest—Russia’s answer to the World Press Photo Competition. Azarov of course said he would love to someday win the latter contest, but then noted that contest is not only about the quality of one’s photography but also about the event photographed—which must be “on the right scale.” And Azarov mostly shoots in Russia, which limits his coverage.

After graduation from high school in 1976, Azarov enrolled in the Moscow Food Institute on Volokolamsky prospekt. The reason was simple: it was the institute of higher education closest to his home. But he found that he could not bury the passion for photography he had developed in secondary school. So he took an academic leave from the institute, then served for two years in the army. He never finalized his “food studies,” instead he joined the strong team of photographers at Moskovsky Komsomolets in 1982. Azarov subsequently worked at Sovietsky Sport and Sport Panorama. In 1992, he joined the staff of Kommersant.

To think—this 42-year old master of photography could have ended up serving mashed potatoes in an anonymous stolovaya. Yet, thankfully, Providence intervened. Indeed: the building of the secondary school where Azarov first discovered a love for photography is now the headquarters of Kommersant.

Azarov said that some politicians praise his work, while others castigate him. But all are wary of waking up some morning to find themselves in an undignified pose on the pages of Kommersant. “Someone like Vladimir Zhirinovsky [whom Azarov caught on film in a fight scene at the Duma, with one deputy hitting “mad Vlad” with a stack of paper], upon seeing my work at a recent exhibition at the newly-opened bridge near the Slavjanskaya hotel, is smart enough to always spin the photo in a positive light. The ingenuous Zhirinovsky said of that shot: ‘See! That Azarov is such a good photographer, you can see from this photo how difficult it is for Zhirinovsky to work in the Duma.’”

In two recent photo-shoots (see page 53), Azarov showed again his skill at capturing politicians unawares, while also capturing just the right mood. The first was at the license contest for TV-6 channel won by Media-Sotsium group, set up by Arkady Volsky et al (see Notebook, page 8). The announcement ceremony was attended by former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who is seen trying to prevent TV-6’s Svetlana Sorokina from falling out of her chair in disbelief. In the second, Azarov used his “golden eye” to catch the marked disgust on the face of newly-dismissed Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko.

“Whether they like them [the photos] or not,”Azarov said, “when they go into politics and become public figures, they should be prepared for it.”

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