Growing up in the middle of Siberia, photographer Elena Zhukova had little to no access to the art world, but instead she was surrounded by the world of science. Most photographers don’t come from an organic and analytical chemistry background, which gives Elena an edge to her photographic eye. She moved to the United States for college where she took art classes alongside her main chemistry courses, dipping into the mediums she was so separated from in her home country. At her first job outside of university, there was an electronic microscope Elena had access to, which had capabilities of seeing objects even closer up than with a normal microscope. She spent the majority of her free time playing with this microscope, just for the sake of the visuals it lent her, not necessarily the science element to it.
One could say her days with the microscope aided her in falling into photography. Elena has stayed true to her roots in her photography as well, photographing many scientists along the way. She herself sharing a background with the scientists she gets to photograph allows for a more accurate representation of the career and what it is that these people do.
Her photographic world isn’t entirely scientists, though. Recently she’s embarked on a collaborative project with tattoo artist Brucius, photographing up to 90 of his clients. The collection of portraits represents a living gallery of sorts; each of the subjects walks around every day with a piece of art by the same artist permanently on their skin. It all started with one conceptual image she shot of Brucius tattooing, and then branched into a study of the diverse group of individuals he’s done work for.
Each portrait is shot in a similar fashion, with the main focus of the images being to capture the emotions of the people. Elena had not met the subjects before they came to sit before her camera, and she spent about a week having the sitters come and go from her studio. Spending five minutes to an hour per person, she’d learn the stories behind the tattoos, which ended up in some very emotional story telling that easily translates through the images.
Personal work comes from the inside for Elena, it’s an urge she just can’t fight. Typically a conceptual photographer, who sits and plans out the better half of what the photograph will look like, this project was more so for her to get back to the roots of feeling a real moment with her subject. Conceptual work tends to pull you away from the human side of ones subject, and Elena realized she wasn’t really capturing a moment in them in her theoretical work. Reality was almost slipping away, but this project helped her catch it.
In about two weeks, images from her tattoo project will tower over San Francisco on billboards, which is sure to grab the attention of the thousands who will drive past it every day. Brucius will be opening his new tattoo salon Black Serum at the end of February, a space which will be on a much bigger scale than the typical tattoo parlor size. A book will also eventually be made to showcase the work on a more complete level, which is sure to be a fantastic end piece.