An Interview with Anastasia Babenko

Anastasia Babenko is an exhibiting artist in PCNW’s 23rd annual juried exhibition, curated by Kris Graves.

Tell us about yourself, where you’re from, and when you first discovered your love of photography

I come from a small Ukrainian town of Slavutych which is often called “the last soviet utopia”. The city was built from scratch in 1988 to shelter Chernobyl plant workers after the accident. I discovered my love for photography when I was in grad school pursuing a degree in journalism. It was the first time I got access to various cameras, and I took one for a weekend trip back home. I took a portrait of my sister. She was wearing this hippie blue ribbon in her hair and a matching blue top, and everything just clicked. 

Tell us about the work that was selected to be included in Distinction by Kris Graves.

The works that have been selected by Kris Graves are both from a series called “I Told You It Would Rain.” It started when I moved to Seattle 2 years ago. I was feeling very insecure and disoriented far away from home. I was also feeling pretty lonely, and making portraits in collaboration with other people was in a way an attempt to make new friends. I started to invite myself into people’s homes haha, and create alienating images filled with contemplation and surrender. I met Jeric during my internship at the Center on Contemporary Art and fell in love with his poetry. He was one of the first people who let me into their personal spaces, and I wanted to take a picture that would speak to the vulnerability and quiet sadness of his own works. Another image is a portrait of my friend Maria. A repetitive pattern in many of the photos in this series is some kind of barrier between a subject’s face and a viewer. In this case, the speech deprivation was inspired by an Echo sculpture that has been at the back of my mind since my first run along Seattle’s waterfront. I was trying to create pictures that look rather normal but are also somewhat disturbing. Initially, it started as a personal project. Over time though, it transformed into something different, into a more universal feeling of being perplexed before the unknown.

Who / what are your biggest influences?

My first photobook was William Eggleston’s Guide, and I’m still in love with the “New American Color Photography”. Among the biggest photography inspirations, I would also call Rineke Dijkstra, Hellen van Meene and fashion photography (like early Harley Weir). Among other things, I’m super influenced by cinema, but also by real life. It can be a dialogue that I overhear in the street or just a mundane little thing that sparks my creative interest. 

Are you making work in response to the current pandemic?

I had an idea of an upbeat life-affirming Zoom party lookbook or a campaign for a brand. If you know someone who’d be interested, please let me know haha. 

PCNW’s annual juried call for entry provides exhibition opportunities for artists and directly supports our programs, scholarships, and labs at PCNW. This helps ensure access to photography for many future generations of creatives. We know you have many options for submitting your work, so please tell us why you chose PCNW? What are your thoughts and experience with submitting your work to different calls?

Showing my works at PCNW has been my dream since I moved to Seattle. I took one of the classes at PCNW last fall, and it felt like a very safe space where I was not judged for my creative endeavors but also had a lot of healthy critique-based discussions about my works and works of my classmates. It was very inspiring and gave me a big push. I’m very thankful for having this opportunity to show my works in a place that brings people together through visual arts.

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