The edge between ugly and beautiful by Kristina Shakht

KALTBLUT presents The edge between ugly and beautiful by Kristina Shakht! Interview by Liza Miron. “Every time I put the camera in front of your face – I see your soul” – writes Kristina Shakht on her website, visual artist, photographer and jewelry designer. More recently, Kristina spent time in New York photographing the city and shooting her new project “The edge between ugly and beautiful.”

What made you choose New York over other American cities?

I fell in love with New York long before I came here. I vividly remember my first two hours travelling from the airport and into the city. It was a grey and rainy day. My first feeling was “Run away! Just buy a way back ticket now and run!” I was so frightened, but after a while I fell in love again. New York seemed so very controversial, contrast and sharp. With so much diversity and so many cultures in one place, it feels like everyone is accepted. It seems like people from all over the world are here and I’ve never had this feeling anywhere else. Maybe in London or Berlin, but still not the same, not as intense. Seeing how everyone can be together at the same place and get along well, “mix & match” and adopt cultures – it’s fascinating, that’s probably why I choose NYC as a subject.

What do you feel when you go in the city to shoot? Do you plan your trips or districts where you go?

I wanted to capture different parts and moods of the city, things that you would not expect to see, and it’s all just in the moment and coincidence. For example, there are several pictures from a funeral cortege in Chinatown – you can’t predict pictures like that. You never know what’s going to happen you just go around the city and observe. You never know what’s around the corner. And I usually never plan to stick to a specific street. I just go to an area. I don’t even look at the map. I’m just trying to get lost. I think a great way to find interesting things is to get lost. I’m getting lost to find myself in the reflection of the city, you know?!

Title of the project is “The edge between ugly and beautiful”, how did you come up with it?

New York at its’ core is a city of contrast. Josef Brodsky said “What I like about cities is that everything is king size, the beauty and the ugliness.” I agree, so that’s where the title came from.

You had different projects in last 1.5 year years and mostly they are connected to fashion and portraiture. Even one of the first shoots you’ve ever done with models was published on Vogue. That was two months after you started doing photography, that’s impressive for such a short period of time. But you have a degree in a different sphere. How did you get into photography?

Yes, I have a bachelor’s degree in linguistics. I don’t think that these spheres are not connected. I don’t have degree in photography, but I was exposed to different spheres in my life. I was in art school since I was 4. I went there for 7 years. We sculpted with clay, painted and drew with graphite pencil. We went to museums a lot. And I’m from Saint-Petersburg – which is the Mecca of art in Russia. I also had 4 years of journalism coursework, which included writing, literature and psychology coursework. In university, I gained a lot of understanding of my language and trained me to be detail-oriented. We were exposed to a lot of amazing studies and professors, I was interested in brain studies as well. I took a 2.5 year course called “History of Arts & Crafts and Design” in the Hermitage museum. I also had a jewelry brand since I was 19. I never studied jewelry design as well, but I did it anyways just because I wanted to. With photography it’s the same. I had just wanted to shoot for the last 10 years before I finally took a camera and did my thing. So it’s a lot of things, it’s not only photography. I’m 100% positive that to be good at something, you have to be very erudite and expose yourself to a variety of spheres in life. That’s the only way to grow and put quality into what you do.

It sounds like photography is more like work of study for you, like science. Do you think that it was the reason why you started to do a reportage project?

Yes, definitely. I try so see life and study it from scientific perspective. Photojournalism is a visual sociology for me. And it’s also a very hard genre. You have to be a great and kind person, in my opinion, humble and loyal, to do this type of photography. I have so much respect for reportage photographers and photojournalists, because you have to have a story behind you to be able to see stories – to see details, to be able to learn and study your subject (the city) and show it as real as it is. I want to use these skills in my work, not only in reportage series. I think good art doesn’t exist without trauma, it’s not always painful, but there is always a problem that I want to talk about. Of course my street photography can never be planned, you have to react immediately to what world/scene/city/subject gives you. If a portrait is a reaction of my subject towards me, street photography is my reaction to the world – my observation. It’s like a movie and I’m a third party that showing the story.

What do you hope people feel when seeing your New York work?

I come from a place lacking in diversity and I want people to see how huge and different it can be.

There are no portraits in this series, and you are known mostly for your portrait and editorial work. Why have you excluded portraiture from your work this time?

I wanted to work on something new and see if I am able to be good in a completely different genre. And photojournalism always attracted me.

What’s your favorite picture in this series?

There are shoots that I made in Chinatown – the ones that show a  funeral cortege. It was a very deep and unexpected moment.

Interview: Liza Miron /

Photographer: Kristina Shakht / /