Interview. Fine Art Photo-Artist in Cologne

“My creed is to emphasise noble aspects of beauty” — Rodislav Driben in conversation with Thomas Berlin

Thomas Berlin: Rodislav, in addition to your work as a data scientist you are also an art photographer. I noticed you through your scenic photography, which is partly reminiscent of paintings from the last centuries and at the same time contains a modern sensual note. But how would you describe your work? 

Rodislav Driben: An attempt to enter the temple of paintings world through the backdoor of photography. 

Thomas Berlin: In addition to visible perception, do you have a general topic that runs like a red thread through your work? 

Rodislav Driben: I deliver beauty to the world, but every artist will say the same. My particular creed is to emphasise noble aspects of beauty. So in one word-“nobility” is the answer to the question. 

Thomas Berlin: Why do you photograph what you photograph and not landscape, flowers or other things? 

Rodislav Driben: I do shoot all of these during my voyages, but in those cases I take pictures to capture beautiful places or scenes that I witness. In case of landscapes or wildlife I do not have my own special artistic vision of themes delivered and thus these images, despite beauty of some of them will maintain without author’s signature. In case of fine art nudes and fine art portraits I completely create my images from a “white list”. 

Thomas Berlin: When is a picture successful or what is a good picture? 

Rodislav Driben: Let me define it in my own way. Let’s say that you love works of a certain artist. It can be Michelangelo or Helmut Newton or anybody else. Now imagine that you are awake in a middle of night and you are trying to remember how works of your favourite artist look. If you can recreate in your brain the content of the image (its mood, its composition etc) really well this would mean that you truly love and appreciate certain image or images. 

I checked how this definition works during a long and physically exhausting 14 days trek in Kamchatka with group of pretty experienced hikers. (How and why I got into this challenge and how I got lost in volcanoes for several days this is another story) At the end of one of tough hike days all our group was terribly exhausted. One girl named Lena tried to encourage me saying that I saw your works in Internet before the trip and like your works so much.  — Great! Could you please tell me which of my work do you like best. What is depicted there? I know that it was a bit unfair to ask such an exhausted person this question, but eventually she was able to describe in good details 3 or 4 of my works!!! Thus I concluded that those 3,4 works were success from the perspective of a certain art viewer. From 2017 to 2018 I was known in photographic artistic circles only as a guy who made the nude with epee series.

In simple words truly successful pieces of art are strongly memorizable and distinguished among other works. 

Thomas Berlin: Your pictures look very conceptual. How much concept work is there in the run-up to a shoot? 

Rodislav Driben: Actually I do not like separation of Art into conceptual and non-conceptual. An artist may claim that his or her work contains many layers of interpretations and psychological, social and political statements, but a viewer will not be able to see it. And comments of artist such as “listen how the river flows and you will understand the deep meaning of my art” will further confuse the audience. On the other hand an artist may work on his or her compositional tasks and eventually a viewer will see a lot of story layers in his or her personal perception.

In general a road to accomplished photo-painting is pretty long like in classical figurative paintings. Initial stages include sketches and studies. After comes a general coloristic solution and finally an attempt to merge it all and to add a story to the scene. What you see on my Instagram page is a mixture of accomplished photo-paintings, photographic studies of human nudes and intermediate states suggesting how the finalised work will look like more or less. 

Making photographic studies of human nudes do not require having in your head an initial idea of a story to be told. Photographer studies anatomic features and plasticity of his model and this may provide ideas of further advance.  On the other hand sometimes an idea of a story or a character comes to my brain long before it is realised with a certain model.

Thomas Berlin: Do you only have one session with your models or do you also work with them on projects or series on a recurring basis? 

Rodislav Driben: In general I love to continue working with models which whom I made successful photo-sessions in past. On one hand a photographer is better prepared for various challenges due to his past experience with known models, on the other hand there is a danger of doing the very same things that were done in past. In other words not having a fresh viewpoint on the model. 

Thomas Berlin: How do you find the people who come in front of your camera and what are their motives for participating in your pictures? 

Rodislav Driben: What I assume is that my models share my love for world of paintings as well as my vision of nude body as an object of art. So they join forces with me as coauthors to create a heroine from a world classical paintings with all the nudity belonging to the portrayed personage rather than to their own intimacy. 

But besides said above, women can have various personal motives that sometimes they share with me or they do not. The most “exotic” reason for doing a nude photo session that I heard of was a suggestion of woman’s psychologist to conduct a photo session in nude genre with male photographer in order to increase self- esteem. Sort of art therapy… 

Anyway, whatever a motive of a model is to join forces with me it is welcome, since I sincerely believe that we make together this world a little more beautiful place to live. 

Thomas Berlin: How can I imagine a shoot with you, i.e. how do you choose the location, how long does it take, how is the interaction with the model?

Rodislav Driben: In general it takes 3 hours, but sometimes 2 or 4. I prefer to work in a spacious studio having furniture with large windows for a good flux of natural light. Interaction with models is every time very different depending on a model.  Mostly there is a high degree of mutual understanding and friendly atmosphere between me and my models during the shootings. But sometimes things may get cold and demotivating. Surprisingly there is no correlation between the friendliness of atmosphere during the shootings and quality of final result.

Thomas Berlin: You photograph largely or completely digitally, right? Why actually? 

Rodislav Driben: I stopped making photos with film cameras in 2006 just because the digital cameras offer much more comfort and savings. 

Thomas Berlin: How do you deal with light? And what is your lightening setup? 

Rodislav Driben: I prefer to work with non-direct natural light, but sometimes I work with artificial light sources. 

Thomas Berlin: Could you describe a typical artificial light setup?

Rodislav Driben: I use artificial light in a very simple way: I illuminate the scene and if I do not like what I see I change angles of illumination until I like what I see. 

Thomas Berlin: When you had to commit to only one camera and two lenses. What would you choose or what combination would you be able to do most of your shoots with? 

Rodislav Driben: I shoot with my old camera crop Canon 7D and with pair of good Canon lenses: 35mm fix and 18-35 mm. I plan to change for some new equipment, but as they say: not cameras make images. Photographers do! 

Thomas Berlin: What does your workflow look like after the recording?

Rodislav Driben: I choose my works and edit them slowly and carefully. When I edit I never use a standard recipes, I only retouch images in places where I do think improvement is needed. For example I do not use some hype presets converting image into a mixture of dark blue and brown spots or similar techniques. 

Thomas Berlin: Do you have role models for your work? 

Rodislav Driben: My orientation is rather in direction of painters than to that of photographers. Still I admire the photographer Christian Coigny for the great deal of intelligence, grace and dignity in a way he presented a subject of feminine nudity.
As for painters, I am strongly influenced by many movements and epochs, such as Renaissance, Dutch masters, French Masters of 19 century, Pre-Raphaelites and others but I do not base my portfolio on a single patriarch of Art. For example I admire personality of Edward Munch for emotional content of his works as well as for his independence and honesty, but I do not cite him in my works. 

 Thomas Berlin: What do you want to achieve photographically in the next few years? 

Rodislav Driben: After I won a Grand Prix at the International Color Awards I was even thinking to become a professional photo-artist. A path that was made by guys like Helmut Newton, Marc Lagrange, Peter Lindbergh, but now I do not see how to make this come true. Maybe lack of connections or maybe lack of interest for artistic photography in recent years. 

Still I can advance as an independent artist in many fascinating directions. For example, I plan to study a bit of drawing in order to enhance my understanding of plastic anatomy. Also I aim to produce more ambitious scenes including several models with sharper defined stories. 

Thomas Berlin: How did you get into photography and what keeps you in this genre? 

Rodislav Driben: I always loved art, but before becoming a photo-artist I was a devoted travel photographer. Now when I managed to touch the work of creation with fine art nudes, I wish never to leave this extremely interesting and challenging genre. 

Thomas Berlin: Can you say a few more words about yourself, please? 

Rodislav Driben: I am a curious and enthusiastic person!

Thomas Berlin: What do you like to do privately when you are not taking photos? 

Rodislav Driben: These days I am trying to initiate a new career as a data scientist looking for new opportunities. As for hobbies I can mention travelling, reading books, watching good movies and somewhat disliking the nowadays world as it currently is.

Thomas Berlin: Rodislav, Thank you for this interview!