We recently headed off to Cardiff to meet with Veronika Merkova, a second year Photography student whose creative pursuits and photography projects are focused on social and environmental matters and the exploration of urban landscapes. Taking inspiration from Jonas Bendiksen's work and from the observation of life occurring in her immediate surroundings, Veronika is developing a photographic style infused with an awareness of the ever changing social contexts we live in and the intricate richness of the human fabric.
Veronika welcomed us in her home and shared with us her journey into photography, told us about her travels and her life in Greece and talked us through her daily routine as a student. Later on, we braved the biting cold and went for a walk around her buzzing neighbourhood, stopped for coffee and cake at Milgi and ended up on the roof terrace in Juno Lounges, where Veronika told us about her dream of documenting various cultures and traditions whilst travelling around the world in a van.
Veronika, how would you introduce yourself to someone who doesn’t know you?
I would probably describe myself as a very energetic person and outgoing but also quite introvert sometimes.
What is your most vivid childhood memory?
I don't have many vivid childhood memories. If I had to choose one it would probably be something like a vivid feeling of being carefree.
How did you get into photography? What was your journey like?
I have always been into photography, from a very young age. It was an escape for me, a distraction and a source of pride. I started with almost no guidance and felt lost many times but I am very happy with where I am today.
What are your major sources of inspiration?
My photographic style is still developing although I would describe it as very street orientated. I like photographing the daily, the ordinary but from a different point of view. I like keeping the distance from my subject, to include more information on the background to support my story.
What is your favourite subject matter and what kind of messages or emotions do you want your images to evoke?
Social and environmental matters are mainly the ones I like to focus on. I want the viewer to experience through my eyes the places I've been to. I also like to photograph subjects that I think people should know about. I love photographing older people that I’m either familiar with or are complete strangers. I feel that they carry a lot of history and the textures you can get are amazing. I always try and evoke the feeling I had when I was there, taking the picture.
How important is storytelling in your photography?
Storytelling is really important in my photography. I always appreciated photography as a form of art but personally when shooting I focus on documenting the situation, from working on personal projects and photographing my close relationships to working on the streets. When shooting in a new place the ambiguous photographs are my favourite as you can imagine multiple stories behind them.
Last year you travelled to Norway and Finland. How was this experience for you and what were the highlights of the trip?
Travelling to Norway and Finland was an amazing experience. It was at a really good time when I needed to escape and I just focused on doing what I love. Photography helped me approach people and meeting such a different culture and lifestyle was extremely inspiring. I felt very calm and free visiting the landscapes around the country. It was a dream of mine to visit a Nordic country especially because it felt really different from what I've known. The highlight of my trip was seeing the northern lights. You have to travel to the farthest and darkest point, where no other lights can reach. Surrounded by snow and watching the colours change in the sky shows you how beautiful and powerful nature is. You feel small next to that.
What are some of your favourite shooting locations? What is it that draws you to them?
Every place I travelled has given me something on a professional and personal level. It's really hard to choose just one of the many locations, but busy towns are usually a place where I like to photograph as there are many things occurring, but I also enjoy shooting in the nature.
What’s a must have in your gear bag?
My gear bag doesn't include many things. I shoot film on an Olympus OM101 and digital on a Nikon D3300 and a basic 18-55mm lens. I carry a spare memory card with me and some films and that's about it.
Who do you admire in your industry and who do you follow for inspiration?
What I admire about photography is the freedom I have to express myself and my ideas. It gives me hope as I believe that we need an alternative to today's media. Of course, a great inspiration have been the masters of photography such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, Bruce Davidson and so on, but most of all I have a big love for Jonas Bendiksen's work. His subject matters are exactly what I am interested in and the way his photographs make me feel is something that I will always try to achieve in my personal work.
Do you have a dream collaboration on a specific subject matter?
I don't have a specific dream collaboration but as a goal I would like to document the autonomous communities around the world.
What does Cardiff offer you as a photographer?
In my opinion, Cardiff is an ideal place for me as a student as I have many things happening and occurring in relation to photography. Many great talks and exhibitions but also not too big to become hard to maintain a social life and have a part time job. There is a great sense of community with local business where people are more approachable and friendly. As a starting photographer I think this is really important.
What do you do or where do you go to unwind and get inspired?
I like to exercise as it's hard to get inspired when I am in a routine so I like to engage my body in any kind of exercise. I do love going to exhibitions, talks, screenings and often visit London or Bristol and dedicate the whole day on just shooting around on the streets or observing.The times I've been most inspired are usually when I am visiting a new place, or something that it's different to my everyday life.
You seem to love travelling and documenting people’s lives and traditions. What are your favourite travelling locations? What’s next on your travel list?
I love experiencing new cultures and gaining an understanding of how their community works. Anywhere in the world would be a great experience although I would especially love to visit India. Next I want to visit the Czech Republic and Berlin soon but also I am trying to document Greece when I go back in summer.
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would that be and why?
If I could live anywhere in the world I would probably try few places before I would choose one.
What is the best piece of advice you have been given?
The best advice I've ever been given is to overcome my fears. Although, when I’ve heard it I didn't think much of it, it was only when I actually did take the step and overcame my fears that I realised its importance.
What are you working on at the moment?
At the moment I am working on a project with the Riverside Market Garden and documenting different aspects of their company. Mostly I am trying to experiment with my work and take on new challenges. I am trying to be flexible and take the most out of the university experience. I am also trying to document my personal relationships as an ongoing personal project.
What are your dreams and ambitions for the future? And what trips or photography projects would you love to do?
My biggest ambition is to be able to afford a van and travel around the world. Alongside with that it would be to document the world around me and see where it takes me.
Can you recommend us:
A book: A book that influenced me a lot when I was young is "When Nietzsche wept"
A song: A great song is Taro by alt-J
A film: And a movie that I love would have to be Captain Fantastic
Thank you, Veronika for meeting with us and for the insight into your creative and personal realm.