We’ve seen a lot of Alex Efimoff recently – he’s exploded onto scene in Wellington and throughout the pages of express with his fantastic portrait and scene photography that appears to catch the essence of the photograph’s subject. At his new studio in Te Aro, Alex works with his models to get the best, most interesting shot out of them. Nothing too fancy, nothing too conceptual, just stark, grabbing images of interesting people – their faces, their expressions and their bodies. Hannah JV popped in between shoots to meet the man behind the lens.
Alex Efimoff has a charming and almost entrancing accent. He has only been speaking English since he arrived in New Zealand five years ago, but has a lovely way of speaking that hints at how thoughtful and serious he is.
The images Alex produces are often a far cry from the soft-but-serious tone he speaks with – whether it’s Grant Robertson or Jan Logie quietly chuckling or Stephen Fry positively losing it laughing, Alex’s images are full of fun, laughter and joie de vivre, something Alex says the city of Wellington has given him since moving here in 2007.
“I moved here thanks to my parents – they decided to immigrate to New Zealand in 2001. I’m from Eastern Russia, but I spent the last 10 years in Moscow, where I lived with my now ex-partner. We were together for 10 years. I had an idea to bring him over to New Zealand but… plans have changed.”
Alex says a lot has changed about his life since he came to New Zealand. From his “little family life with my partner, a dog, two cats and a flat in Moscow”, Alex now has an English qualification, a diploma in photography, a new partner and a studio to work in. He’s also completely open and honest with his parents.
“I came out to my parents last year,” he says. “My parents accepted me; they love me. I said, ‘What did you expect? I am 32 and I have no wife or no girlfriend’. My mother said, ‘We thought… maybe!’
“I wasn’t involved in the gay community in Russia. For me it was quite dangerous – there are only two gay clubs in Moscow and they are constantly closing. The situation in Moscow currently is not good.”
Alex has been taking photographs since 2001 and has amassed a huge number of them over the years. He has adapted easily from film to digital, but says understanding the differences between how he sees art and how many New Zealanders see art has been hard.
“It’s very conceptual here, but for me it’s more visual,” he says. “I’ve seen a lot of art that is wrapped around an idea. I studied the arts in Russia – how to paint and draw and all that stuff. For me composition is very important – lights, colours and the meaning of the shot; what you can read from looking at an image. I do agree that the concept is important, but the shot is the most important thing to me.”
Despite the portraits you’ve seen in express so far, Alex says his photographic style is not defined. One thing that is defined is how he spends time with his subjects.
“The shooting process means I can spend time looking at a person, walking around them, sizing them up and then deciding how to depict them. With a camera you get to do weird, strange things that you don’t get to do when you just meet a person! I’m very interested in the ‘look’ of a person, particularly in their faces – their eyes, their noses, their smiles.
”It’s my job to make them feel comfortable in the studio – I play music, we tell jokes and make them laugh. Some people are obviously more difficult than others, but you have to make people comfortable and communicate with them.
“I recently shot two guys from Holland – I really liked working with them, they are great people. They’ve been together for 20 years and I met them on Facebook – Wellington is a small place and everyone knows each other! They were not comfortable at first, but by the end of the shoot they were eating ice creams and laughing in front of the camera.”
Alex has made many connections through the Wellington GLBT community that he is grateful for – it means he is able to photograph our wonderful community on a regular basis.
“It’s a great community and I’m happy to be proud of it. For me, taking photos of people is development; I’m asking people to help me develop my style. It’s mutually beneficial too – I get to take their photo and they get to have copies of it. It’s not paying the bills yet but I’ve got some plans on putting my name out there. I’m not quite confident with paid jobs just yet because the client dictates what you should do, whereas with my work at the moment I’m developing myself with how I see the subject.
“I like working for myself because it means that even if the people photographed have their favourite, I can pick which one I want to post or exhibit. Photographers should be able to predict a final outcome, even if the subject doesn’t think it will be beautiful or interesting. A professional can see the finished product in their mind… and in the little screen of the camera, which helps!” | Hannah JV