Photographer Tanya Sharapova’s series “Strangers” captures the many solitary faces of second lockdown.
It’s the winter of our ultimate discontent. Hours morph into days, which slog forth into months. The beauty of random exchanges with strangers – the odd joke in a very long line – raucous laughter with no-names – all that’s gone from our lives. I think it’s safe to say, we miss it much more than we ever dreamed we would.
But Moscow-born visual artist Tanya Sharapova sees this second lockdown as an opportunity to push her art forward, improve her skills, use her German, and connect with her chosen city. She approaches strangers – socially distanced, of course – and asks to take their photographs.
The stunning result is a series of lonely, somber Berliners — all unique, all with a single purpose, assuredly — to get through this strange winter without going absolutely bonkers. Beyond that, the fact that these people have agreed to be photographed is proof, in and of itself, that many of us still crave this connection, despite our current limitations. And just as we see others alone on the streets — we, too, wish to be seen.
We were able to grab an interview with Tanya herself to discuss the project. If you believe in this project and want her to keep going — contribute to her crowdfunding campaign here.
BLY: Why did you begin to take photographs of strangers?
After the first lockdown, I knew what to expect, so I decided that the second lockdown was a perfect time to improve some skills.
I needed to learn to approach people here in Berlin. How could I get them to agree to be photographed? I could do it easily in Russia or the Himalayas (where she worked previously), but here because my German language is quite limited, I felt shy, awkward and was really afraid.
Second goal for me was to get used to my recently-bought medium-format film camera. I needed to work with it super-fast, automatically.
And a third one – I needed to take care of my mental health, because I am a super extroverted person, and lockdown for me is an extremely challenging thing. I needed to have a reason to go out of my apartment, and I needed to speak with people.
BLY: What do you think the project says about the people of Berlin?
Berlin is a place where you can be the person you really are, without any judgement from society or even from the government, like in Russia right now. It’s a melting pot of unique faces and characters, a paradise for the observer. And now, it’s an extremely interesting and important time for me to document the pandemic through people’s faces.
BLY: Are most people receptive to being photographed?
It really depends. The worst scenario happened when five people in a row said no. But the more I photograph, the easier it gets. Now, after more than 80 days in a row photographing strangers, I must say the progress is difficult to gauge. I still can’t ask some types of people, and that’s why the story is still challenging. Normallly, I ask directly if I can take someone’s portrait, and then, if needed, I explain why.
BLY: Who do you normally ask?
Normally, I ask people whose faces I want to stare at. The camera allows me to do that. I want to keep a balance with a variety of different faces, also. Sometimes I give myself a task, like today, I’m looking for an interesting young girl to photograph. But mostly, it’s just a starting point, and in the end, I maybe photograph a grandpa.
BLY: What do you think you can learn about a person based on taking their photograph?
Actually a lot. I’ve already heard so many stories from people’s lives. I’m a stranger to these people, so probably, that’s why they easily share with me what they feel, what they worry about. It’s like speaking with a person on a train or an airplane.