03 November 2009

Ivan Terestchenko-through the photographer's eye

On Ivan Terestchenko's website a simple bio states-Born in England and educated in France, Ivan Terestchenko studied history of Art at the Ecole du Louvre and was a painter until the age of 30 when he switched to photography and landed his first assignment with french Vogue. Of course there is more than meets the eye-
When did you know that You were a Photographer?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always thought I’d be an artist and I was a painter until the age of thirty. I found out that to make a name in the world of contemporary art would request compromises I wasn’t prepared for and I hated the solitary life that comes with it.
Photography was an option only that gradually became a passion and thank God, I'm not bored with it.
Decoration photography, which is what I’m known for, has little to do with PHOTOGRAPHY and I always wonder if one doesn’t confuse a beautiful room with a beautiful photograph.

My life as an artist in the mid Eighties’. A rather tormented work is in progress. It couldn't last for ever.

My new life as a photographer. Here, arranging a still life or photographing a peony field in Connecticut for the book The Garden Room. Suddenly the world is wide and bright.

When you go in to photograph a home, be it a shack or chateau, how do you distill the essence of its owner?

I am much more interested in the personality of the owner than the place itself. After the general view,a necessary routine, I focus on relevant details, may it be photos, books, unpredictable tokens of intimate life. Sometimes, I even open the fridge. You are what you eat.

At Martin Grant's. Martin is an Australian fashion designer. His home was very orderly but he couldn't guess I would inspect the fridge.
I haven't touched a thing.

Are your interiors photographs styled-Or should I say- are you assisted by or do you find styling is needed?

As a general rule, too much style kills the style.
When it was the fashion in some decoration magazines to bring props, I was always fiercely against. If one has to style a place, then it shouldn't be photographed in the first place. I am a nightmare for stylists, I don’t let them do anything and if I want to move something, I do it myself, not that I’m a control freak but it goes faster and if I sign a photo, I sign everything that is in it and will, if it comes to it, take the blame.

Who are your mentors? your favorite artists?

As for interior photography, Bruce Weber is by far my favorite photographer and a constant inspiration because I can relate to it. He has a way of making people and places look casual as there had never been a camera at all. Simply irresistible. There are lots of photographers I admire. Irving Penn is number one, but also Cartier Bresson. I favor those who never thought of themselves as artists.

Tell me about your illustrations? Do you ever combine your photographs with them?
I used too and even published a book, “The Garden room” were photos are mixed with watercolors and sketches as you see here :

This is a portrait of Horst P Horst. I met him in his home in Oyster Bay. Wouldn't dare to photograph him, so I sketched him instead.
We had a fascinating chat about his relationship with Conde Nast. He went through hell which I found very reassuring.

There are some of the most beautiful images in your Portraits of Interiors blog entry dated Sep 1 09- Vas Blue, Vanite? When will we see an IVAN TERESTCHENKO book with these slightly decayed haunting images?

I’m strongly thinking about it but it’s a difficult book to edit. Pages after pages of decay could end up being a bit depressing, no ?
I have to find the right balance.

I love your images of Maxime de la Falaise, what joy and beauty! As I looked through your editorial work I saw the gorgeous photographs of Carolina Irving's rooms in House & Garden-one of my favourites that I had misplaced. I am so happy to be reunited with the photographs & know that you took them. Do you have a favourite project where you just fell in love with the home and the owner?

There would have been lots of book opportunity… its always books… because I always think of images in a serie, with a story to tell but publishers are difficult to convince and often misguided by their marketing department. I don't know what the next will be about but something in the US would be great. If you have an idea, Please let me know.

Have you ever tried to limit your subject matter? I am so captivated by your interiors- and then I see the flower images you have on your blog and am instantly loving them even more. I sense in the advertising print work your love for creating a still life-Could Irving Penn be your influence? You posted some of his work recently upon his death-Talk about his incredible career a bit.

One has to limit one's subject matter. Certain places are so rich that there would be many different ways to look at them. It needs a strong discipline not to get carried away and focus on the substance.

The Chateau de Versailles can be looked upon with a magnifying glass, and it’s big. This picture was taken in Marie Antoinette's Bedroom at the Petit Trianon, yet it looks so modern.

Still-life is where photography meets painting. It’s almost inevitable.To create a still life that will be evocative of a whole world in one picture is a big challenge. When I photographed the adverts for Farrow and Ball, I had to say: classicism, British country life, traditional quality and sophistication.I had no plans but I went to the company's owner's farm and started working in the yard with what was around. That days, the angels were with me.

Irving Penn was the indisputable master at this. Though he was not a direct influence, I greatly admire his photographs for their economy and graphic power. It takes a life to value simplicity and Penn is the Matisse of Photography.

Do you surf?

I do. Apart from the sport itself, I have a romantic approach to surf. I see surfers as modern knights, with a code, a quest, a strong esthetical identity, and bonds between self dedication and love for nature highly appealing and photogenic.

Talk about your moments in Front of the camera. Are there any secrets you can share that put a sitter as ease?

Love or at least friendship. The photographer must convey : I am your friend, I will never take a bad picture, what I see is your bright side, relax and shine.

This a portrait of Peter Lindbergh and his wife during a dinner party. Even with his mouth full, the worst possible time, they look wonderful.

In the digital world, what will happen to the art and craft of photography? Will great photographers be elevated to the world of great painters and their works only affordable by the very wealthy?

I don’t think so simply because the digital technique has its merits and when it comes to printing on large scale, digital is just as expensive as the traditional way. More importantly, a true artist will tame his tool to his needs. Cameras don’t take photographs, only photographers do. Though I dislike the feel of pixels, I found the use of digital very liberating.

Is there some yet unseen hybrid publishing model that will allow photographers to be fairly compensated for their work so that all of us who revere their magic can continue to view their art?

An unseen mode ? Not any that I can think of alas but the surest way to support photography is easy: buy photographs. The blogosphere doesn’t pay for bread and butter. However it remains a wonderful way to show and share. The compensation is not financial but still highly rewarding.

Does digital photography enhance in anyway the photographer's tool bag?

It most certainly does. It’s cheap and the result is instant. You don’t have to question the use of a costly film whether it is worth the trouble. You do it and if it’s no good, you delete it. In this sense, it's very liberating. The true limit however is that I have always thought that a photographer’s style defines itself more by its “mistakes” than by its perfection. I tend to favor a certain smoothness due to the relatively poor quality of the lenses I use as a choice. Digital lenses don’t allow that, they are often too sharp for my taste. For the same reason I never really liked Hasselblad, I much prefer the Pentax 6X7, or the good old Rolleiflex, which belonged to my grand father and still use. I call it my Stradivarius.

Reloading my Rolleiflex in a cafe in Venice and the Pentax 6X7 in Paris. This routine is part of the charm which you miss with digital and one never runs out of battery!
one last-What would your dream project be?

The only project worth dreaming is one that will reconcile human beings with humanity.
If I still had the vast wealth my family once enjoyed; before the revolution, they were the greatest art patrons of Ukraine; I would create an art academy in which the first year would sponsor nothing but a tour around the world. The basic material of art is life itself.
“Go and see the world and come back with your experience and a story.”

The most remarkable project is happening in Venezuela with El Sistema created by Prof Abreu. If you don’t know about it, I urge you visit this link:


Fortunately for Us Ivan Terestchenko has his own blog & shares his incredible work every day. His point about buying photographs is well taken. I can not imagine what our lives would be like without photographs.

All photographs Ivan Terestchenko has graciously shared are his.No images may be used without his permission.

IVAN TERESTCHENKO PHOTOGRAPHY his blog here , his website here , his books here


  1. Great interview and what an interesting man. For some reason cannot see pictures but have checked out his blog and website. Really beautiful. xoxo

  2. I have always followed his photographs and would love to see a book with the very images you have sited. This is a great insightful view of the artist. His answers and ideas are spot on. AW

  3. Ivan and Gaye -- fascinating! I enjoyed this soulful interview and look forward to re-reading it when I have more time in the evening.


  4. Jane- Oh my-yes, but the pictures have appeared- I hope you will come back. His photographs are wonderful. la

  5. Courtney & Anon- His answers are soulful and impressive. He really brings images to life with his words too. GT

  6. Dear, the Farrow and Ball ad is indeed a classically beautiful still life I especially like the Blue Vase.
    So pretty. BC

  7. Great interview. I love his photographs & now his answers.Thanks.

  8. Wonderful interview, LA. As I have said before, I am delighted to see photographers, particularly the status of Terestchenko join the conversation. I think all of us grateful readers need to belly up to the photo bar and support these magicians of light.

  9. I loved reading this interview. I thank you for producing it. I enjoyed reading about the processes described by Ivan Terestchenko.

    It reminded me of this DV quote describing Horst P. Horst’s narrative use of detail ''The cravats around the carafes of wine at the Rothschilds' house in Mouton,'' mused Mrs. Vreeland in 1984. ''The Duke of Windsor's red leather dispatch box marked 'The King.' When those pictures came in, I went berserk. I'd be intoxicated for hours.''

    I appreciate Ivan Terestchenko’s ability to edit and tell a story silently, visually; it takes a great eye, and lots of discipline. The Idea that a photograph should look like the camera was not ever there, seems very Escher-esque, when in fact the proof is in image. I find this fascinating it requires a very deft hand indeed.

  10. Agree with DH completely. He has that ability to tell the story with pictures. What a great quote from DV.

    Good job on this post.

  11. Home- many thanks and for your special input I am grateful.IT's answers are the best. GT

  12. Debra, Anon.
    So true and that is a stellar quote from Vreeland. I can see it now. My favourite foto is the Marie Antionette "claw" Thank you for your comments. la

  13. I was totally captivated by this interview~the questions and the answers combined. Ivan is not only a great
    photographer, he's got a first class mind. Loved his
    remarks about the styling of interiors. They evoked the mood of Horst's work for Vogue in the 60s~a sort of glamourous everyday quality that had its own truth.

  14. "The Garden Room" is one of my favorite books ~ a great combination of art, design, personality and style. I return again and again to my beat up old copy, which I've had since graduate school. I could barely afford it at the time, but just had to have it!

    Great interview ~ thank you!

  15. Toby Worthington. YOU are so right-first class period. GT

  16. Janet- of course you know this book-dumb me-I didn't but I have remedied that and found it immediately- on its way. I run across a first book or two I got in college and feel the same way about them as you- and loved them from the moment they arrived.G

  17. Wow. That was really amazing to read. For me, it was particularly insightful to read about and then consider the particular artistry that is interiors, or similarly still-life for commercial photography, outside of just photography as a whole. The idea of following a home's owner, or revealing the owner through the home. And also the idea of making one's sitter know that they are loved. These are both beautiful ideas.

    Thank you!

  18. Thank you for sharing...can't wait to show this to my photography class. One of my next project ides is to have students arrange their own still life and photograph. What a great resource. I too love Irving Penn. AnneRB

  19. "Wow, Gaye, what a treat! Thank you!!!" BettyB

  20. "Lovely to see this next leap on your blog. You are doing fascinating things and gaining quite an audience! Congratulations!" PFB

  21. LizT -glad this was thought provoking for you. Aren't these images especially the laundry shot. I bet you like that. Thank you for joining the conversation. AuntG.

  22. Wonderful comments all and I want to thank Ivan for his insightful words.

  23. Okay, I had to come back and read through this a second time...it is so damn good! Bon weekend...

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  25. This is a great interview, Gaye - and it takes two for that. Ivan Terestchenko is a very interesting and generous person!

  26. Wonderfully thought provoking. I needed to find sufficient reading time to do it justice. What an inspired talent Terestchenko is; all the more so for his ability to translate all that he's acquired into meaningful and adaptable instruction.

    The piece is imbued with such lovely imagery like that of surfers being compared to "modern knights," and DH's comments from DV were gloriously apt.

    A comprehensive and diligent post. Thank you.

  27. I am a fan of Ivan's photography and more recently his clay pieces... he is a lovely human being with such depth of talent and thought. I love his comment... "The only project worth dreaming is one that will reconcile human beings with humanity."
    Great interview!!



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