Corinna Raznikov, the second speaker in a three-part series at the Mattapoisett Historical Society Museum, captivated her audience on Wednesday night with an engaging account of her life in pictures.
Raznikov described her life as a professional photographer as both challenging and rewarding, but perhaps the most satisfying element of her work is how her story is interwoven with the lives and stories of her subjects.
First taken by photography after her uncle gave her a Nikon FE2, Raznikov began what would be a recurring theme in her life: a self-assigned project.
Her first project, she said, would be a largely unsuccessful attempt to capture trout moving through a freshwater stream. In a world before digital cameras, this resulted in hundreds of photos and numerous rolls of film, and it highlighted a characteristic of Raznikov that would serve her well in her profession: her tenacity for getting the best shot.
Raznikov’s love of art began as a child with her many trips to art museums, although she diverged from the path in college, first deciding to be an English major. However, a key faculty advisor suggested she take a class entitled “Women in the Arts,” and the discipline of Art History opened up a whole new world to her.
“My favorite writers told stories with small details of people’s lives,” Raznikov said, and her favorite photographers did the same thing. Photography, like writing, has the magical ability to freeze time, says Raznikov, and helps one to be introspective and understand the world around them.
After studying abroad in Scotland taking part in a year-long course in the history of photography, Raznikov began taking pictures in earnest with a medium format view camera. This camera was unwieldy and large, allowing her to only take up to 10 images at a time before she had to unload and return to the dark room to process her work. This process taught her how to slow down, and endeavor to, as she describes a photograph, “fill a rectangle beautifully.” This view camera again demanded that she look for Cartier-Bresson’s decisive moment.
Raznikov began photographing children at the start of her career, visiting people’s homes and simply spending time around their kids.
“Supermodels have nothing on children!” the photographer says, describing how beautiful and elegant children and babies can naturally be.
A local Marion resident strongly suggested Raznikov photograph her daughter’s wedding, which she bristled at, having had no prior interest in wedding photography. The woman insisted, and Raznikov agreed, provided she could shoot the event in black and white.
“A wedding is a day of stories,” Raznikov discovered, “and so twenty three years ago my love affair with weddings began.”
After giving birth to her daughter, Josephine, she realized two things. First, her work demanded that she move from film to a digital format, and second, she could not sustain both businesses. She ceased most of her portraiture work and focused mostly on weddings.
However, Raznikov kept up her routine of creating self-assigned projects throughout her career. After a visit to Rembrandt’s home in Amsterdam and seeing all the historical objects he collected, she decided to provide children with interesting objects and photograph their responses to those objects. This project resulted in a series of ethereal black and white images that appear timeless.
An audience member mentioned that she thought Raznikov’s photos looked old-fashioned or retro, which the photographer says she frequently hears.
There is a timeless quality to her photos, perhaps due to the black and white imagery, which she favors.
“Only use color if the color is important,” she said.
Or perhaps it’s the candid, natural un-posed images of her subjects that she captures which may remind us of photos from another era.
Raznikov has donated her time to the Sippican School for the last five years photographing upwards of 500 students who participate in Vocabulary Day, in which students dress up as their favorite vocabulary word. Raznikov says she loves that the students are involved in the art project with her, and the sale of the photos has raised between $3,000 to $4,000 to purchase books for the library.
She later collaborated with the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston to create a space to highlight the families and their infants who are born there – a project she felt she was perfectly suited for due to her sunny disposition.
Raznikov sees life through rose-colored glasses (and camera lens), and asks herself of her subjects, “What’s dazzling about them? What’s their best quality?” This philosophy served her well in the Brigham and Women’s project, in which she interacted with parents and newborns, sometimes in sensitive and intense situations.
“I try to be small, to not take up too much space, and not use artificial light,” she said. The project resulted in a permanent installation of twenty 20” x 30” framed photographs, located in the Department of Pediatric Newborn Medicine at the hospital.
Raznikov is working on a new project called the Walls of Healing, which is chronicling celebratory stories of good stuff happening at a local hospital. As a mother of an animal lover, Raznikov is collaborating with daughter Josephine to provide the photographic expertise to local animal shelters to improve the photos of shelter animals on Pet Finder.
She has begun a personal project in which she is photographing people who have found something they love to do, people who are “exploring the inner light of one’s soul.” She asks the question “How has yoga (or something else) changed your life?”
Raznikov describes it as “documenting people being their best selves” while also “attempting to document the inner soul of humans and animals.”
These personal projects are vitally important to Raznikov. She acknowledged that shooting a wedding can be stressful and challenging, so she prepares for weeks prior to a shoot by interviewing her subjects, researching locations, and readying her equipment.
Quoting Henri Cartier-Bresson, she said, “To photograph is to hold one’s breath.” One must prepare for and be open to the photograph, she said. Recently she has incorporated yoga and meditation into her preparedness routine. Prior to a shoot, she will sit in her car, often with her assistant Leah Latham, and breathe into a meditation, saying, “Let me see light. Let me see love. Let me see joy.” This meditation also appears to be her mantra for how she has approached her entire photographic journey.
By Sarah French Storer