Photographer Ira Chernova was born and raised in Moscow. Struggling to find herself, she went travelling around Europe, and after several years of an on-the-road lifestyle under her personal motto, “It’s full speed or nothing”, she recently settled in New York City and now leads a successful career as a model with one of the world’s top agencies.
Ira first gained attention with her experimental self-portraits. Having followed Ira’s blog since 2008, I remember being struck both by her outstanding beauty and by the way her photographs combined brutality and femininity, hardcore sexuality and teenage innocence. Despite her tattoos and her eccentric clothes, she looked natural, as if born with them. I found myself entranced by her imagination, too: Ira would sometimes post photos of elven creatures and of townscapes that looked as if set in a different world. She really was nothing like the conservative Russian society around her.
Three years ago, Ira did a photo-shoot with me. “I don’t do anything against the body”, she explained then. Without forcing a model to do anything special or extraordinary, somehow she reveals what’s hidden: the instinctive or metaphysical, the wild or even unearthly. She accepts anything from a model as long as it’s natural and expresses the freedom to be who he or she wants to be. In this sense, Ira reminds me of Diane Arbus and her daring, honest photography.
OKSANA TIMCHENKO: Ira, you studied engineering at university. How did you find your way to photography and modeling?
IRA CHERNOVA: By second year in university I knew that an office job was not gonna do it for me. So I had to find something ASAP. My parents had an old Zenith camera, that’s how it started.
Your self-portraits were the first of your works that I saw. What did they mean for you as an artist?
It was an easy way to study light, angles, and so on. Whenever I had an urge to take a photo, I could set it up in a few minutes.
I know you love Roald Dahl. How has his work influenced your own?
I think it has to do more with my attraction to a “fairy tale” vision, to creating a different world around you. In the same way, I always loved Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. It definitely has to do with providing food for the imagination.
It was a wonderful experience to be photographed by you, and I love your approach to working with your models. What are your main principles for portrait photography and did they change at all after you worked with photographers like Mark Abrahams and Inez and Vinoodh?
It’s definitely a great school to see how other photographers work. I found myself being more into “moment” photography than static. I guess with time I’m learning to not “overshoot” anything, and if I feel five minutes in like I have a shot I’m gonna use – then it’s a sign to move ahead to the next look.
How is modeling different from being behind the camera? How far are you willing to go to change yourself in response to how a photographer sees you?
It depends how much I trust that person and respect their work. I’m down to think through all ideas when they come from real creatives. Photography and modeling are very different. As much as I enjoy being in control of a shoot, it’s also nice sometimes to be an object.
It was great to see you in the recent Diesel Reboot campaign. What made you want to get involved with that project?
I always wanted to work with Nicola Formichetti; his creative ideas are just too much. And when I first heard of what’s gonna be happening — promoting young artists, doing casting without agencies, etc. — everything together was really exciting.
Does your recent video interview with actor Norman Reedus represent a new direction in your career?
Not really a new direction. I’m very interested in collaborating on portrait series, though, with celebrities who are into art or just generally have something to say. So yes, I’m definitely planning to keep working on such sketches.
What’s next for you?
To find an agent, I think. I want to be able to focus more on the creative side, to have enough time for research, etc. So it’s gonna be a necessary step in order to move away from the headache of organizing each shoot.
Why did you leave Moscow? And why choose New York?
I never felt like [Moscow] was my home; probably you just grow up and away from the city where you’re born. New York City is a way happier place in my eyes. Plus there is crazy enough variety to anything here.
Video: Ira Chernova’s short interview/doc on Nicola Formichetti
Photo of Ira on SCOPE’s home page by Alina Valitova