Born in the Moscow region of Russia, Kristina Makeeva’s daily surroundings were anything but saturated in color and vibrancy. However, at the age of 16, Kristina picked up a camera and changed her world. Through her daring and stunning approach to melding fashion, location, and an essence of magic, Kristina invites her viewers into her photographs to believe in a beautiful and bright world. With gorgeous international backdrops and a wide array of props, Kristina Makeeva has created an incomparable niche for herself among the many travel photographers circling the globe.
Face the Current chats with Kristina about the inspiration behind her techniques, her favorite shooting locales, and her feelings about image over-saturation in our modern world. Each one of Kristina’s photographs tells a story that will beckon you in. Stay a while and enjoy.
This Face the Current Travel Feature is published in Issue 24 / July-August 2019 Edition. Order PRINT here, SUBSCRIBE to digital membership for unlimited access, or continue reading this article below.
Traveling opens up a new world, expands our consciousness, inspires us and creates tolerance. All of this greatly influenced my work.
Sasha Frate: When and how did you begin to travel and get into photography? Did the two come hand in hand, or one before the other?
Kristina Makeeva: At the age of 16, I took the camera in my hands and have been shooting since then. I did not study photography at university, but there were related subjects on graphic design, web design, Adobe programs, and so on. At school we did not have such clubs, but I often did my own presentations with pictures in Photoshop for school courses. I’ve been working with Photoshop since I was 14 and shooting photographs since I was 16. My first camera was a Panasonic video camera which took pictures with a resolution of 640×480 pixels in JPG format. That was 14 years ago. I received a related education at university, as I studied graphic design and it strongly influenced my work. Designers always create their worlds out of nothing, as I do now—I always need to embellish reality.
Travel began much later; about five years ago. I don’t travel for rest and relaxation, but for work and vocation. Traveling opens up a new world, expands our consciousness, inspires us and creates tolerance. All of this greatly influenced my work.
SF: When not traveling or creating amazing photography shoots, how do you like to spend your time?
KM: I think that more than anything else in the world, I like to sleep.
SF: Which destinations in Russia do you feel provide a “best of” experience and why?
KM: Baikal is a stunningly beautiful place. The first time I went for the company and did not expect anything. What I saw and felt kept me awake all three days I was there. I wasn’t tired at all; inspiration pulled it from me. Having traveled to many countries, I still consider it one of the most beautiful places on Earth. The religion there is Shamanism, so it is felt. In addition to the beauty, you feel the energy. I really hope my next visit there will fill my tired mind with this pure energy. People can be very cynical, but Baikal forces us to reconsider our views on various spiritual processes. Perhaps it is the pure air, water, and natural products that create the positive energy. Residents of megacities often lack pure oxygen. Of course, when the visual component is beautiful, any photographer probably feels an increase in strength and abilities. Photographers in this place burst with emotions and excitement. It’s almost like taking a drug; dopamine pours into the blood. All the beautiful visuals are simply dopamine stimulants.
I think in terms of pictures and I always have a movie in my head. When I plan to take a trip, I plan more than would be physically possible in that destination. It is rarely possible to do everything you plan for on a journey that you think of at home in advance, but nevertheless, “homework” is necessary to give you the opportunity to create something unique on the spot. Personally, I become immersed in history, landscape, and pictures.
For a trip to Baikal (and to any place) I prepare requisite must-sees. If it’s somewhere I haven’t been, I look at photos on Google and based on my own knowledge of those locations and experiences with other travel, I prepare props. Even still, with outdoor shooting, everything heavily depends on nature. I order special clothes suitable for the surrounding landscape, we sew dresses, and I order props. I bought thermal underwear so we don’t freeze. I even plan to dress up Timon for some pictures from the drone. But no matter how I plan, the result will be different. Therefore, I am preparing, but not planning.
SF: What most captivates you about visiting Lake Baikal and what was it like shooting at this location?
KM: In the winter, Baikal is the most beautiful. Also, in May when the ice is already leaving and the seals are resting on the ice floes, Baikal is mesmerizing.
SF: What are your top 3-5 destinations that you most enjoyed visiting and photographing?
KM: I loved Baikal, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Great Britain, and Iceland.
SF: You’ve said that we all need more magic in our lives. What does this mean to you and the work you do?
KM: The term “magic” is often applied to my photos, and there truly is an element of magic. Growing up in a gray and ugly city near Moscow, I always wanted to be in a fairytale like the ones I read in my childhood. I loved stories about hobbits and Moomin trolls, books like Alice in Wonderland and The Silmarillion, and fairytales by Russian authors like Max Fry and others in the fantasy genre. With age, the perception of fairytales and the tales themselves change. When I travel and project my own fairy tales, the national flavor of the countries that I visit is added in. For example, in a project with flowing fabrics, I was most recently inspired by Asia. In many Chinese or Japanese fairytales, there are girls with fabrics flying in the wind. The simplest example is probably the Japanese anime of our childhood, Sailor Moon: Tales of Miyazaki. Everything in our environment and experiences logically has an impact on us.
I think about what it is that I want to show. I want to show the magic in the ordinary. We have a project that is permeated by all of my photos which is called “Simple Magic Things.” We want this project to show that everyone is surrounded by the amount of magic that he or she can see. A gray, dank reality can make it feel as if there is little to make our world magical. But life is not somewhere over the mountain in the gardens of Sakura (which are overflowing in the spring, by the way), but rather it’s here in our apple orchards, or in a cup of herbal tea in the rays of the setting sun. Any piece of fabric can turn into a magic train, and that in principle, there is nothing that is impossible.
Photography has tremendous power. Sometimes I receive private messages from people that my photo has helped them to cope with sadness. Sometimes they even speak about their depression, and if my photos help that to become better even for a moment, then I am glad. We initially began to work in order to carry the light of beauty into the world (however pathetic that may sound). Through the responses from people, I see that that light sometimes helps. In fact, that’s what I want to bring with my photos: light and wonder.
SF: “When dreams come true” appears to be a common theme in your images. Einstein once said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge, for knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world and all there ever will be to know and understand.” How do you see your dreamy travel and lifestyle scenes inspiring this greater understanding of our world and our life experience?
KM: I think that they inspire learning.
In our photos, the main goal is to create a feeling of unreal reality. It’s as if we are now on another planet, but something about it is familiar. We look at it with different eyes.
SF: Do you have a dream that you feel has come true for you? Is there a dream you still hope will come true in your life or in the world?
KM: A dream for me is something that is impossible. Goals are the things that can come true. If I set a goal, I will certainly reach it sooner or later, one way or another. A dream for me is to fly into space.
SF: Your cat Kotleta is an adorable part of your team and featured in many of your images. Did he come along before you got into photography or after? How has Kotleta added to the fun and creative process for you?
KM: He appeared after I started working as a photographer—he is only 6 years old. He became my most inspiring muse. His grace and understanding of what is happening shocks my imagination and excites the audience. He quickly became a fan-favorite and has probably helped me gain the following I have.
SF: If you could describe Kotleta’s typical “mood” or “vibe”, how would you describe it?
SF: What elements do you like to incorporate into your images to capture a story or moment within a scene that invites people to imagine and dream into a wanderlust experience?
KM: In our photos, the main goal is to create a feeling of unreal reality. It’s as if we are now on another planet, but something about it is familiar. We look at it with different eyes. What plays a leading role in any given photo is not important. Sometimes the main focus is a glass ball. Sometimes I shoot one shot without processing and sometimes I collect the universe in pieces. But I always insure myself with backgrounds—this is another secret: something that does not fit into an ordinary lens will fit in the post-processing. It is also important to understand that over the years of filming I have accumulated a huge amount of objects such as airplanes, flowers, fabrics, snow, clouds, sunsets, balls, and drops that I can use in my work. These are my personal stock photos and it’s how I collect my universes. What I lack in location I can finish at home.
Also, there are often a lot of people at any given natural or city site, so that has to be retouched. For instance, there was a lot of rubbish and a dusty moped-covered road behind a beautiful temple, so we removed it and reframed it. Or, if the temperatures are extreme, then we shoot as quickly as possible and remove all the shortcomings in post-production. The deception can sometimes be extensive, but the viewer must believe. It’s the same as believing in movies, especially those we believed in childhood.
SF: You did a beautiful campaign for Oh My Look! & G.Bar in Paris, France. How do you come up with your ideas for creating such incredible fairytale scenes like you have in this campaign with immense balloon bouquets, merry-go-rounds, a colorful smoking umbrella, princess-style dresses, and more?!
KM: We developed this campaign along with the brand of rolled dresses, so we didn’t have problems with the selection of dresses for locations. We just took all the classic ideas about Paris and made a fairytale out of it.
SF: What do you believe makes a good photo?
KM: I have been working for 15 years as a photographer. I did a presentation at a university on what makes a photo attractive. For me, “God is in the details.” A good photo should not be sloppy, and all elements should be worked out as close as possible to the real world without losing their magic. I no longer think about the composition and light; it happens automatically. There should also be a rhythm in every photo. For example, seagulls-wave dresses-clouds. This simple example demonstrates harmony.
Since I initially shoot for processing, the final frame is very different from the source code in terms of composition, light, and color. Color is very important to me. I can get a visual “orgasm” just from a beautiful combination of colors, and I understand that the same story with altered tinting will look different. This gradation can determine a good or bad photo.
All of these things are technical components. Then there are transcendental values such as feeling and mood. Every photo should of course elicit emotion. There is an abundance of photos on the internet, particularly on Instagram, that are bright but unemotional. They are without soul or fresh ideas. Nothing is original and everything is shared. Honestly, I don’t even want to look at my friends’ images as they all repeat something from someone else. It’s boring. I call this phenomenon, “indifferent art.” Photos should evoke emotion—even delight or excite the mind of the viewer to think.
SF: Have you ever had a surprise encounter—something that wasn’t planned or anticipated—while traveling in a city or in nature that “made” your whole trip?
KM: I don’t remember the unexpected meetings; I guess there weren’t any. I just do not plan everything point by point, including props and dresses, so travel for me is always a surprise and an experiment.
SF: What do you hope to inspire most in people who follow your work?
KM: Warmth. Joy. The brightness of the world. I do not like pale photos. I certainly respect artists who create great pictures in any genre, but that is not mine. I need to make the world brighter and I need people to believe in it, so I do not do a “deliberate” photoshop. I try to make reality.