Uldus Bakhtiozina
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I'm often asked why I do art, what do I want to say with my art photography, and what is the use of it? Once in a while I start to worry how to actually measure the impact from the art like we do with medicine or technology, where we can see the results and calculate it. Then I would finally be able to explain to my mother my art with real numbers. But my art is so far from metrics, and moreover, my photography is widely exposing the theme of escapism.

My theory is that all of us struggle sometimes to escape in order to analyze our reality, appreciate it or change. I don't work with daily life as it is, and I'm not a documentary photographer in the common sense. But I am a documentary photographer in a different sense. I document dreams. I work with daily life as it could be, as I imagine it. I am a daydreamer, but at the same time I love things that are authentic and deal with our innermost nature, which I would never want to escape from. I adore complicated personalities, and real life inspires me to create my images. Real life inspires our escape, and sometimes that escape is very needed.

I believe heroes are not created easily, and I choose to work with individuals who are survivors and facing everyday routines that are not always full of color, people who are on their way to a better life, fighting against life circumstances.

Why do I choose people like that for my models? Because I've been in that position myself, when I had to learn how to survive in real life. I was a student living abroad in London. I was working at two places at the same time as a waitress. Obviously that wasn't my dream job, but I decided to play a game where I imagined that I am taking a role in a film, and in the film I am a waitress, and I need to act great. I used to dye my hair and brows to gingerette, I changed my hair to curly perm, I lost weight and made myself believe I am just a character acting in a film. That isn't forever, that is all just temporary. That helped me a lot. It motivated me to change my life and take a hard time as a game. Now, as an artist, I am creating different lives for my models in order to give them the experience of being someone else in reality. Through the photographic process, all of my models become like silent movie actors. They are captured at the moment when they believe in being someone else entirely.

In order to create a new reality in its entirety, I physically create every single thing in my work, sometimes from outfits to the stage. Because I work with analogues, and I don't make any digital manipulations to my photographs, I need everything to take place in reality, in spite of the fact that nowadays, digitally, you can create pretty much everything. I don't like this path. Even if that reaches perfection, I see the beauty in authenticity of making, and that's impossible without flaws. A digitally manipulated photograph is not true for me. It doesn't capture anything real. It's not experienced, not motivating. It's like, instead of going traveling, you look at someone else's travel photographs.

What I find so exciting is the ability to make people's dreams of being someone else a reality. That's like a drug which pushes me to keep working, even without metrics.

One of my models had always dreamed of being seen as a warrior, but she wasn't able to do sports because of her health problems. Half a year ago, she passed away from heart disease at the age of 22. But two days before her death, the images we spent months working on together of her as a warrior she dreamed of becoming were published at a large exhibition in Milan by Vogue Magazine. All her life was about overcoming. Before she died, she had known that thousands of people saw her image from the land of escapism and believed in her as a brave and fearless warrior.

For my work, I invite people to play a game like we all used to as children when we pretend to be someone else and that process made us really happy. To my mind it is important for grown-ups. We need these transformations to enact this in the name of art. It gives us the very real feeling of being important and powerful in order to influence our reality. I know this from my own personal experience. I have had so many versions of myself through my self-portraits that I've been many different characters.

Being someone else in the land of escapism doesn't exactly give us numbers that we can gauge, but it's like a real lost form of magic which exists but can't be measured. There is a unique power in art to transform and lift our limits. Art creates what I call a conjured life, which helps our existence and pushes, motivates and inspires us to dwell and express ourselves without metrics or calculations.

Thank you.

(Applause)