THE TALKING EYE: Sergei Chukin – A “Tarkovsky of the Still Frame”, Interview by Bob Weil

Every other month, Bob profiles an exceptional mobile photographer currently producing notable work across a variety of subjects and employing a broad range of techniques. Some will be well known within the mobile photography world (exhibiting and selling their work), and others are gifted aficionados of the craft.

I stumbled upon Sergei Chukin’s work on Flickr, an early platform for amateur photography. I was immediately struck with several aspects of his work – the stark b&w compositions, the decaying urban locations in a post-Soviet Russia, and the informal chronical of his son’s movements through this landscape. A landscape not unlike those found in Andrei Tarkovsky’s films – an artist with whom (as it turns out), Sergei himself identifies with and admires. I share his love of Tarkovsky’s work and how he frames his subjects, and that may be what drew immediately me to Sergei’s work. As it was for another of Sergei’s photographer-idols (Steve McCurry), the face is a both an inexhaustible expression of individual personality, and a map of the environment in which that personality lives and grows.

Sergei has neither sold or exhibited his work. He hasn’t considered entering photography competitions or seeking a broader audience. His greatest joy is in simply expressing himself through his photography and capturing his son and his environment as they evolve and change.

BW: Please share your educational and professional background.

SC: I live in Russia, and I work as a criminalistics medical expert in the small provincial town of Nevel in northwest Russia. have been interested in photography as an artform for a very long time. I travel to different countries whenever possible. However, most of the photos were taken by me in the town where I live now.


What drew you to photography, and how did you decide when to use the iPhone as your primary camera? Do you sometimes use other cameras?

I am 50 years old, and I took up film photography at the age of 15. My father was quite seriously interested in photography and cultivated my interest in the artform. The amazing process of “designing” a photographic frame and printing a photo is time-consuming, but insanely interesting.


What inspires you?

I was inspired to take up photography by the desire to express my emotions, experiences, and reflections. In my opinion, photography is a very convenient and concise form of such self-expression.


Are there any specific design periods or artists who have an influence on your work?

I would perhaps say Steve McCurry. To my mind, he is a genius in the area of artistic photography and photojournalism! And I was also very impressed by the films of the famous Russian film director Andrei Tarkovsky. His amazing compositions in the films Stalker and Nostalgia have inspired me throughout my life.


How would you describe your work in terms of style and/or approach?

My work consists mostly of staged photography, and part street photography.  I often take pictures of the small town in which I live now. I feel a strong connection connected that place. It epitomizes the atmosphere and mood of dying provincial Russian cities, which I want to bring to the viewer.


It appears that the subject of many of your photos over the last few years has been a young boy as he grows up. Is that your son? What inspires you in shooting this boy and his various experiences?

Oh, yes! This is my youngest son Arseniy! I spend a lot of time with him. We explore old abandoned houses and factories. He really likes it. We find old things that serve as objects for photography. It is very interesting for me to observe my son’s reactions.


How has your work evolved over time?

I’ve had a lot of cameras, but over time I began to devote much less time to the technical side of photography, and focused more on the story I was trying to tell. As a result, I work now only with an iPhone, having sold all my cameras. The iPhone is always with me, and the shooting process is simple and comfortable.

Generally speaking, what are you trying to communicate with your work?

I’m trying to capture my own vision of the surrounding reality; my own view of the world.


Tell us a typical day of photography. Where do you go, what do you look for, etc.?

For the most part, my photoshoots occur on weekends. I take my little friend with me and we set out to explore more and more new places. We hunt for old household items, old houses and other remnants of a former civilization.


What kinds of creative patterns, routines or rituals do you have to increase your chances of success when you’re shooting?

I doubt that I have any particular patterns or routines that I follow – at least that I’m conscious of. Each individual shoot follows the inspiration of the place and the moment – a subconscious feeling that cannot be planned or controlled.


Do you shoot only posed shots, or still lifes?

Most of my photos are staged, as mentioned above, although sometimes I shoot spontaneous street photos.


Do you do multiple edited versions of the same image? How do you know when a work is finished?

As a rule, I take the same photo in color and black and white format, and I choose one of them. As a rule, black and white wins.


What sort of process of review do you go through when deciding whether or not to share a particular image?

I proceed from what I like and hope that it arouses the interest of other people!

What motivates your decision to choose black & white over color for a given image?

Working with color is always difficult. Black and white photography is easier in terms of processing. Black and white photography, in my opinion, is more focused on the story, without the distraction of color.


What iPhone apps do you use in your work? If you do use apps, describe your editing process, in general terms.

I use the simple photo editor provided with the iPhone itself, as well as Snapseed. Sometimes, I also use Lightroom.

In what other ways, besides photography, do you express your creativity?

Photography is my main hobby and I find that only photography allows me to fully express my feelings.


What advice would you have for someone aspiring to do the type of photography that you do?

Take as many photos as you can, travel more, look for new subjects constantly, and don’t get hung up on the technical elements of photography and photo processing technique.

Have you been successful selling your work?

I have never actually thought about selling my work.

Tell us about the differences and similarities between your professional work and the photographs you shoot for yourself.

I work as a criminalistics medical expert and quite often use photography in my work. But this is a strictly technical photographic process that has nothing in common with art.


What comes next in your creative journey? Any upcoming plans in choice of approach, subject, etc.?

In the future, I would like to spend more time on street photography. If possible, I would like to buy a compact camera (for example, a Leica X2) and go on a trip with it.





Bob Weil is a former marketing exec and practicing mixed media digital pictorialist living in Omaha, Nebraska. He has won numerous awards for his work and has exhibited in New York, Los Angeles, Canada, Italy and Portugal. He is a published author and teacher on digital art subjects with 2,400 students in 52 countries. Bob co-authored The Art of iPhone Photography with Nicki Fitz-Gerald for Rocky Nook Photography Books.

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Comments (7):

  1. Diana Nicholette Jeon

    June 22, 2023 at 17:37

    This is really fantastic imagery and he should seriously consider upgrading his plan for getting it out into the world more.

    • Bob Weil

      July 12, 2023 at 17:23

      Thank you for your insight, Diana – I have shared this view with him!

    • Alexander

      July 23, 2023 at 12:10

      It’s a big problem to create an international carreer living in russia today (

  2. Joyce P. Lopez

    June 23, 2023 at 04:05

    Quite extraordinary for someone who considers himself to be an amateur! He should get his work out into the world.

    • Bob Weil

      July 12, 2023 at 17:48

      Thank you for the observation, Joyce – I’ve said the same thing to Sergei. I hope he takes it to heart.

    • Alexander

      August 7, 2023 at 22:14

      Amateur, professionsl – the empty words. Talented artist – is reality )


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