Valentina Penkova is a Moscow-born, Sydney-based photographic artist. Her project "Camp Home" documents people who have moved back home after living independently.
What drew you toward this subject matter?
A few years ago I noticed that whenever people moved home or it was spoken about in the media, it was always in relation to some sort of failure, which came as a big surprise to me, as in my culture inter-generational living was more common than not. Although my time at home had its difficult moments, it was also full of discoveries, about myself as well as my parents, whom I got to know for the first time as adults and individuals, with complex personalities and histories. I became drawn to this micro universe of history, love, conflict, care and personal battles and how people navigate through these waters. It was such a fruitful, saturated and visually interesting world and I could almost taste the very distinct and individual atmosphere of each house. I found it surprising to hear the people living there say “there is really nothing interesting about this house”. I felt it was important to help give these experiences some sort of voice, other that “financial/personal/some other sort of failure”. Yes, some of these experiences were incredibly painful for the individual moving home, some were filled with daily conflict, but they were always very complicated, delicate and honest experiences. I really believe that there is so much more going on here than the “failure to launch” generation. People are having interesting, sometimes life changing experiences and there should be a more open dialogue about them, instead of dismissing that experience as a failure.
What has been the hardest thing about conducting such emotionally engaged work? How do you process this through your practice?
I would say that so far the hardest thing has been finding people willing to take part. A lot of the time people are interested, but the more they think about it the more reluctant they become. Part of that I totally understand, because someone’s home is a very personal and intimate space and as I mentioned before, often people aren’t very happy about the move in the first place, so baring your bones at this point in their lives is the last thing they want to be doing. I think one thing that has helped me so far is when I initially meet with people (no camera, just for a chat) I explain to them that this is not an expose type project, where I’m looking to highlight their troubles, or failures and create a shocking body of work. In my work I always strive to approach my subjects with respect and give them equal power in the process, because without them my work would literally not exist. To me, there isn’t a photo that’s worth hurting someone over or making them feel uncomfortable, especially when they’ve invited you in to their home. There have been people that were super reluctant to share much but still wanted to take part, so I’ve said to them if there is only one room or one thing etc that you’re comfortable with me photographing, we can leave it at that.
What series or photographers have been the influence for your work?
I think by far the biggest influence on my work has been my previous life as a dancer and the more I shoot, the more I realise how I’m constantly trying to create some sort of contained movement in my images. In terms of photography, the two books that I can’t get enough of at the moment is Family Tree by Glen Erler and Lars Tunbjörk’s Retrospective. Every time I pick up Retrospective I inevitably end up picking up a camera and going outside.
If people want to be involved, what is the process and where can they reach you?
The can message me through Instagram (@vallen.tuna) or shoot me an email at email@example.com I guarantee letting me in your house is definitely less weird than it sounds!
What is your favorite film to shoot with?
For 35mm I try not to be too fussy and just go with whatever is cheap, I think i’ve actually been getting quite a few very recently expired rolls through Rewind (Fuji Superia 200 I think). For medium format I’m afraid I’m pretty boring and prefer Portra.