Hermitage Fine Art is pleased to present an exclusive interview with the legend of sports photography Leo Borodulin and the first Soviet fashion photographer Alexander Borodulin. In an interview with the auction house Hermitage Fine Art Leo Borodulin gives advice to young photographers, recalls his most interesting sport photo report, tells us about the Borodulin Collection – one of the world’s largest collections of classical Soviet photography, and what his son likes best of all.
In turn, Alexander Borodulin talks about who became his guide to the world of the stars and why it is so important to know the history of photography, shares memories of a meeting with Princess of Monaco Stephanie in Paris and her photo session. Her original photo is one of the lots at the Hermitage Fine Art auction.
The auction house thanks the curator of The Borodulin Collection Maya Katznelson for organising the interview.
HFA: Alexander, you are the first Soviet photographer who started shooting for world-famous magazines such as Vogue, Marie Claire, L’Officiel, Playboy. How did your career begin? Who inspired you and who became a guide to the world of stars?
As soon as I arrived in New York, I had an agent. Her name was Kay Rees. She represented photographers of the corporation “Time Life” from the magazine “Life”. Kay worked with Duano, John Mile, Ernst Haas and other famous photographers, she introduced me to them. I became a serious photojournalist, worked for the most prestigious journalistic publications.
I was devastated by the love of beautiful women. (Laughs.) I met Lena Shapova, wife of Eduard Limonov and, subsequently, the first Russian fashion model in New York. She had just come to this city and asked me to make her a portfolio … I did. The very next day, I got a call from a modelling agency Zoli, and another day later in my shabby apartment in a horrible area on 40th Street and 9th Avenue, where gunshots could be heard at night (these streets of New York were then called “Hell’s kitchen” (Infernal cuisine)), 20 stunning models came to me to have their photo taken. That’s how I got into the world of haute couture.
HFA: You shot a lot of world celebrities, from Andy Warhol to Truman Capote. What was the most important meeting in your career?
If we talk about people who influenced me as a person, it’s Yuri Cooper and Eduard Limonov. Certainly, my father in terms of photography. William Borus and, of course, Andy Warhol. Unfortunately, I did not spend much time with him. We were acquainted, I often met him, but never alone, we had no serious conversations. Warhol for me – the key figure in terms of looking at art. I also consider Diane Arbus to some extent, my teacher. However, by the time I arrived in New York, she had committed suicide. Another, Roman Polanski. In many ways my guide to the world of stars in New York was supermodel Gia Karandji.
HFA: The catalogue of the upcoming auction Hermitage Fine Art, which will be held in Monaco on June 30, presents a selection of outstanding 20th century photographs, including yours. One of them is a photo of Princess Stephanie of Monaco, made in 1985. Tell us how you met? What are the memories of this meeting? Have you seen each other since?
In the early 1980’s I came to Paris. At that time I was dating the most famous model in Europe, American Beth Todd. So during the 5 years, which I spent in Paris, I managed to get involved in the local fashion scene. Roman Polanski introduced me to almost all the stars. It was at this time that Princess Stephanie appeared there, Steffi, as her friends called her. She was young, beautiful, very fashionable, noisy – “infant terrible”.
The photoshoot with Stephanie began in the morning in the area of the Trocadero. Designer Jean-Claude Jitrois was with us, and organised this photoshoot in honour of his birthday. When I shot the Princess at the Trocadero, there was a crowd, probably a thousand people. Stephanie behaved absolutely naturally, but could not concentrate, she just lived her own life. Then we moved to the hotel, there we were waiting for the cake and champagne. A cheerful company of stylists, make-up artists, fashion-editors was formed. Only Jitrois was very tense, apparently, he wanted to squeeze the most out of this shooting and was very nervous. But in the end everything turned out well, everyone was happy.
HFA: What is important to you in the process of taking photographs, what do you pay special attention to?
When I work, I turn into a kind of machine with a sharpened creative thinking. The machine deals with all the technical issues. Now everything is much easier, and earlier, when the cameras were not so automated, the photographer had to keep all the technical parts under control. Before you could press the shutter-releaseon the camera, you had to take care of the exposure, the aperture, the depth of field, the sensitivity of the film. Photography should be a combination of creativity and technical parameters. When, for example, you shoot fashion, you need to pay attention to how the hair, makeup, clothes, pose, costume jewellery look. Before I figured out these nuances, it took ten years.
Well, the creative process is even more complicated. Your picture should not be a boring repetition of what thousands of other photographers have done before you. All the pictures ever taken by all the masters in the history of photography should race in front of your eyes, automatically, before you click on the shutter. Then after analysing them for a split second, you can create something new, if you know by heart everything that has been done before you.
When you take a picture, you are engaged in technical control, plus you are at the same time an artist, you create.
HFA: Your photos are often exhibited at auctions around the world, but never in Monaco. What do you expect from this auction?
I really like Monaco. I would like people who live there, especially Russians who are interested in Russian art, to start taking interest in Soviet or Russian photography, the propagandist and collector of which, I am.
Questions to Leo Borodulin:
HFA: Dear Leo Abramovich, what five tips for sports photography could you give to modern photographers?
1.Try to move away from a group of photographers and be a little far away.
2.Concentrate not only on the winners, but also on the defeated.
3.The most important thing is to think before you shoot. Although this does not always work.
4.Think not only about the moment, but also about the angle.
5.It is very important to foresee the moment.
HFA: Tell us about your decision to become a photographer. How did your career start? Which camera was the first? Who inspired you (close, famous photographers)? Why did you choose your sports photography?
I returned from the front in 1945, after a hard long war. I came from Berlin. As a trophy, I brought back a Leicacamera, which I began to only use. At this time, echelons with soldiers came from the front, and I photographed them with my trophy, earning a piece of bread to feed the elderly parents. Then the former command instructed me to compile a chronicle of our regiment. And I took pictures of fellow soldiers, and also collected photos from famous photographers who were shooting the war.
I was an athlete, I played basketball. And even played for the Moscow team. Perhaps this is why the love of sports photography began. In addition, sports photography protected me from ideology and politics.
In the magazine “Ogonek”, where I worked almost all my life, almost everyone inspired me. There were a lot of good creative people. Semyon Fridlyan brought me to “Ogonek”, we had a general photo lab with Dmitry Baltermants. We often discussed our work. Subsequently, he became my boss, well versed in photography and gave me a lot of creative freedom. In “Ogonek” the photographer was never told how and what to shoot.
HFA: Which sports photo report was the most interesting for you in your career?
Most likely, the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome. This was my first Olympics, I managed to take a lot of good photos, including the one on the cover of the magazine. I was very much advanced, I became a famous photographer.
HFA: What kind of work do you like the most about Alexander Borodulin and why?
His sports photos. He is a very strong sports photographer, but, unfortunately, has become fashionable.
HFA: You became famous as a successful collector, having created with your son the Borodulin Collection – one of the largest collections of classical Soviet photography in the world. Which photos from the collection are especially valuable to you?
It was a great success for me to find pictures of those photographers who I know well and whose works I like. Theyare classics. But even more interesting for me was to find new, unknown photos and make them come into our lives. I managed it many times. I think that’s what made me happy in my old age – an opportunity to show the world a new, unknown miracle, a new masterpiece of photography.
This interview was originally published by Hermitage Fine Arts and has been reprinted here, translated into English, with their permission.