PHOTOGRAPHY BY BAARIKS
Ukrainian-based fashion photographer and director Sasha Samsonova is no stranger to being prepared. She has shot visuals for brands and people like Harper’s Bazaar, Complex, L’Officiel, Vogue, PacSun, Kylie Jenner, Tinashe, Teyana Taylor and more. Her professional creative career started with a gift from her parents at the early age of 17.
As she branches off to build a portfolio of directed cinematographic-visuals, we catch up with her from her latest directed music video ‘No Drama‘ for Tinashe featuring Offset.
First and foremost, I want to say how stunning your work is. I’ve been admiring your work for a couple months now. I discovered your work via Tinashe’s ‘No Drama’ music video with Offset. How fun was it directing ‘No Drama?’
It was a lot of fun because Tinashe is such an incredible performer. She made my job super easy. She’s just unbelievable what she brings to the table. It was a night shoot which was a little intense because I had an early photoshoot prior which started at 6 AM until I arrived at the ‘No Drama’ set at 7 PM which didn’t wrap until 7 AM the next morning so for 25 hrs I was working, nonstop.
Wow. I was getting ready to ask how long was the shoot!
It was crazy. I don’t mind working hard but after a certain hour in the day, you become a different person! [laughs]
Absolutely. I loved how dark and ominous No Drama was; what was the concept behind the visual?
I’m not going to pretend like I had some big far-fetched concept because I think that’s bullsh*t. I truly believe the music videos are about visuals connecting to the song and vice-versa so it really wasn’t a really ridiculous concept. I think I chose visually what represented the song in the best way and what it portrayed to me.
There were small details that connected to the lyrics that I have to thank Tinashe for that helped influence to make shots make sense. For intense, the opening truck scene with the license plate that read ‘Truck’… so little things like that will be added to complement a video.
I try to not overload videos I direct and shoot with too many narratives. The main goal is to make you love the song for me, personally.
How did you first discover your love for photography? When did you realize you wanted to become a professional fashion photographer?
It was maybe about 10 years ago. I started randomly with film photography first. I don’t know why but it dawned on me that I wanted to shoot photography. Shooting photography made me super happy. I remember being 17 and my parents gifted me with a Mark II camera which at the time gave me all the tools to be great at photography. [laughs]
I worked with this young designer who was up-and-coming and Harper’s Baazar hired me to do a story with her after she recommended me as a photographer. It was completely a spur of the moment. I’m glad they recognized me for the opportunity. That was my first real magazine shoot and such as big deal to shoot for Harper’s Bazaar and a huge responsibility. Ever since that shoot, I knew that’s what I wanted to do until years later where I now want to pursue video visuals as well.
So at 17, that was your first professional gig?
Yeah. It was insane. I was skeptical! I asked, “Are you sure? You don’t want me to shoot backstage or something?” They said, “No. You’re going to shoot the story.”
Do you remember the subject at the shoot?
It was an editorial for a model in the middle of Winter in Europe. They wanted to shoot outside with an art installation made out of mirrored-glass. It was difficult. It was during fashion week at the same time so it was quite busy. Everyone was late to set. It took forever to do hair and makeup. By the time things were set up, it was completely dark. I was in a situation where my first shoot was going completely wrong. I took it all in stride and used weird lighting and it actually turned out pretty good. The magazine was super happy with it which was a crazy challenge for me especially being a seventeen-year-old kid.
Did growing up in Europe affect the way you appreciate art? If so, how?
Yes, of course. I think anywhere you are will influence you a lot. I’m thankful for growing up in Europe but also thankful for being in America now. I believe things happen when it needs to happen not necessarily when you’re ready for them to happen.
I believe you growing up in Europe set your standard for art way above the average person because to see how refined your work is at such a young age is unmatched.
Thank you so much. I’m happy that people are enjoying the work.
Absolutely. I know you’re also known for working with culture’s most notoriously famous family, The Kardashians, who’s the most memorable to work with?
I always get asked this question but I can never give a clear answer because I’ve had such a great time with each and every one of the girls. The person I shoot the most is Kylie Jenner. We’ve shot in so many scenes. We’ve shot in flamingos, old Malibu where she’s wearing almost nothing, covered in acrylic blue paint — we’ve shot so many looks together and have so much fun doing it. To have someone trust me to do that is unbelievable. The same thing with Khloe, Kourtney, and Kendall. I’ve shot Kendall modeling. I’ve shot Khloe’s pregnancy — every time it’s a different challenge so it’s hard to say which one you liked to work with the most.
Being that we’re talking about the Kardashians, people are weary regarding the mental state of Kanye West; what do you think about Kanye’s approach of expressing his thoughts through love even if it means aligning with Donald Trump?
Honestly, this is such a good question but I try my best to not involve myself in these instances because we never have all of the information needed to make a conclusion. I met Kanye and I talked to him for a pretty long time and digested this energy he has and it was nothing but love and pure energy. I know how heavy people are about this particular subject but I want to believe that it’s an understatement because I don’t really want to get into it but I believe he’s not saying things to be malicious but the way it’s coming off on social media can seem really strange because there’s a lot of anger involved.
I know his intent may be coming from a pure place and being from Chicago, I think it’s important for us to hear him on his platform to be ‘politically correct’ in a way because he has a great responsibility being who he is as a driving force in culture amongst all aspects so it’s important to know what he’s saying and feeding the world.
I try not to think about it too much. But he’s unbelievable. He’s a genius who’s changed the world artistically who changed the culture. He an artist. When it comes to politics — it becomes a whole other issue. I try not to step into it too much.
I saw a clip of an interview you’ve done with Hypebae with some sound advice, “Never try to impress anybody but yourself” Have you ever had an experience where you were seeking approval from someone who shunned your work?
Oh, of course. I honestly think that may be my biggest problem, mentally. I want to be able to be in a place to do the work and don’t need to seek confirmation or validation from anybody else. I know it could sound ridiculous because I do the work for other people but I could never say with my heart, ‘I don’t give a f**k about anyone else’s opinion.’ Because I do! I do this for this to be consumed by people in the world. I make it and the put it out into the world. If I didn’t care, I could make it and go home and look at it by myself. But that’s not what’s happening. I want people to feel my work whether it’s happy, angry, arguing about it or sexually driven. I want my work to do something but I want to be confident enough in myself in what I do that I don’t need that approval anymore. I will get there but I know it’ll take some time. It boils down to me not wanting to disappoint myself. I feel like my standard may be a little too high to not stress out over it.
I feel like your standards are at the right place because your executions are amazing. It’s tough to make so many different types of executions seem effortless.
As a female curator, do you feel like you have to work harder than your counterparts?
I don’t feel like I have to work harder because I’m a woman not really. The hard work in my field I don’t think is separated by gender at all. Maybe I’m lucky enough to not feel that. It may be because of the position I’m at professionally and my perception. I may or may not be getting certain jobs because I’m a woman but I never really think about it that way. But I totally support women and female empowerment but I also a support male-driven initiatives. I support both sides. Right now, it may be an unpopular opinion but I hate screaming out and cheering for “Women Only!” Because it’s like one side will raise up to make their voice heard and vice-versa. I don’t want to put too much weight on one side. I want to try to find that balance in my work that I don’t have to walk on eggshells. I have an equal amount of love and support for men and women. I feel like my work is genderless. I don’t think about it in that way.
Which do you enjoy creating more? Video or Photo?
Video visuals for sure. I feel kind of bad for saying it so surely. I feel like I’m cheating on my ‘photography life’ but directing is just a new step for me of talking to the world around me. It’s so much more control and so much more room for art. I have so many tools. I’m starting from the bottom where you feel yourself getting frustrated about something but also getting better at the same time. Nothing feels better than that moment in creating. I’m down to go through that process just to be able to create so much bigger. It’s really exciting.
I can’t wait to see you directing movies, let me just say that.
Laughs. Thank you.
What are some of your go-to inspirations behind your executions?
The main thing I do is watch movies. Every movie I like, I’ve listened to the commentary of the entire film from the DP or who’s involved in creating the film. I really love that. That’s one of my biggest inspirations. Every time before a shoot, depending on the artist, I’ll watch either Jackie Brown — which is one of my favorite Quentin Tarantino films or Fight Club. These two movies are my go-to on the day of the shoot. It somehow put me in the right state of mind in my brain.
I did a video for Gallant titled “Gentlemen” and before we shot that video I watched Fight Club so many times I started having dreams that looked like Fight Club. It was ridiculous. It really helps me though. I also draw a lot of inspirations from documentary photographers like Alex Webb because they have unbelievable stills. I’ve also been obsessed with Korean and Chinese film lately as well.
Who are some of your favorite curators in film or within in any craft?
Of course, Tarantino is one of them. Definitely, David Fincher is forever my favorite. I love Park Chan-wook, the director of Oldboy. I love films like Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance & Sympathy for Lady Vengeance are my favorite films by Chan-wook. I love David Russell because he turned regular life made to look like theater. I love Woody Allen. I love Wong Kar-wai. There are so many directors — it’s really hard to narrow down.
I recently watched the commentary for Hype Williams’s Belly and I fell in love with his brain and the way he thinks. It hurts me that he never made another movie or ever made a director’s cut because I think it would be unbelievable. It’s one of the most beautifully shot films ever. The opening scene is one of the most genius opening scenes ever to me and I feel really bad he doesn’t have any more long-form pieces out.
I agree. Hype Williams is definitely one of my favorite directors of all-time.
Yeah. He’s unbelievable. To hear Hype Williams speak, his brain is so beautiful. There’s a lot of photographers to draw inspiration from. I also get inspiration from writers like Chuck Palahniuk. He’s really incredible. Just such as crazy, beautiful mind. The way he puts everything into perspective inspires me a lot as well.
Who do you want to create for in the future?
I would love to create something for Massive Attack.
Terrell Johnson is the Editor-in-Chief and Founder of SWGRUS.