• the pictorial mag

in conversation with: ASSIA STARKE

Assia Starke was born in Russia, but has lived in Austria half of her life. She has been fascinated in photography since childhood, having grown up watching her father develop photos in an improvised darkroom at home. She renewed her interest in photography when she became a mother and now finds inspiration in everything around her. In her photos she tries to include lines, patterns and emotions, and she always reminds herself that you have to let your inner self decide what makes a good picture. Assia shared some of her travel photos from Morocco and other places with us. We asked her to tell us more about what drives her passion.


Tell us a bit more about yourself and your background. When and how did you start getting interested in photography?

I was born in Moscow and grew up there, went to school and to the University. My first job as a tourist guide took me through the country and a little bit through the world. I guess, this is where and when my passion for travelling started, although the way I do it, the perception is very different now. I did not take many pictures on the way then but it is still interesting to compare the pictures I bring now from my journeys to those early ones.

My encounter with photography started many many years ago as I was allowed to watch my father print black and white photos in our bathroom – the only room without windows in our small apartment in Moscow (where I was born and grew up). My father was a hobby photographer. He was very much interested in nature but most of the pictures I know were family photos. Photography can be a very time consuming hobby, so I guess he sacrificed some of the time he would have liked to work on it for the family - to spend more time with my brother an me... but he passed his photography passion on to us - it became my brother's hobby as well. I was so much fascinated by this magical moment when the image was slowly emerging on the white paper that I wanted to try it myself.

And so I took my first pictures with the fully manual Praktica film camera with a Carl Zeiss 50 mm f 2.0 lens – which I am still using with an adaptor on the digital cameras now… the so called imperfection of this lens (measured by today’s standards) is its magic – again compared to the technically more advanced but too sober “modern” lenses. I also printed my pictures myself – even with dodging and burning here and there – but of course those were only childish first attempts.

I then studied, moved to another country with a new job, married – and only when my daughter was born, I picked up the camera again.

What was it like, growing up in Russia, and when did you move to Vienna?

I personally think that I had a very happy childhood. I had loving parents who took good care of me and supported me in my development. I was very fond of reading and could read for many hours non-stop. Children had access to a lot of "culture" - museums, theatres were cheap, libraries free... there were many activities - sports, music shows, drawing and painting classes - that were free as well, and many teachers were real enthusiasts (as they did not got paid much...). I do not think that many children of my generation got the impression that they were suppressed in any way and were not living in a free society... These are things that you start thinking about and understand when you get older. 

I came to Vienna with a job for a joint venture (I started working for them in Moscow) - planned for a year. It has been more than 20 years now :).

Did you have any exposure to photography as an art in books or exhibitions back then in Russia?

I do not think so, not photography. I often went to the Pushkin Museum in Moscow and to the Hermitage when travelling to St. Petersburg, and we also had big albums with paintings from those museums - and I loved to go through them (well, with childish awe) - and then I discovered the Impressionists... so these are my 2 big "loves" - the light of the old masters and the colours and style of the impressionists. As I cannot paint, it comes out through photography, I guess.

Where do you find your inspiration?

Nature, the world around me gives me inspiration. I can get touched to tears by a beautiful sunrise or sunset but also be fascinated by the green glossy wings of a bug or the pattern of a maple leaf in the back-light…

Have you ever been involved in the artistic world before photography?

Not more than just visiting museums and theatres.

Is there anything you want to express through your photography? And what are some of the elements you always try to include in your photographs?

My first digital camera made me want to make better pictures – I started reading and watching, joined a couple of online communities – this educated me a lot, of course… at first I learned what I liked and did not like, then I learned the rules – and then I found out that what makes good pictures is letting your inner self make them (knowing the rules at the back of your head still – this helps a lot, of course).

The ultimate and crucial thing is light of course, and I always try to include lines, patterns and emotions (when photographing people which does not happen very often, I must admit). 

Being able to combine photography with my 2nd passion – travelling makes me happy.

Who or what would you say has has mostly influenced your style?

I do not think I am advanced enough to say that I have found my own style already… my interests are too widely spread. And I must say that I am fascinated and most impressed by other people’s good photos in genres that I cannot or do not do myself – I am so much attracted by black and white photography (with very high contrast) – and I myself mostly do colour, by street photography – and I myself mostly do travel and landscape, by artistic still life – and my still life shots are more about geometry - shapes, lines and patterns…   

I love impressionism – I think, it is a way of thinking and can come out in different ways.

Are there any books that you have read that have inspired your creativity and that you would like to recommend to us?

I read most of the things I know on the internet, looked at other people´s pictures, learned (the basics) from them and from discussions in different forums... being able to read in three different languages opens a lot of possibilities. But I do not think that I am settled enough or have found my style or something like that... I constantly get inspired by different things. But I think that beauty and harmony - and a sense of humour - are the most important things for me, in life and in photography.

Do you prefer to shoot alone or with friends?

I prefer to shoot alone so that I can take my time but even with people around I get so much carried away that I tend not to notice them.

How does the equipment you use help you in achieving your vision in your photography? Do you have a preferred lens/focal length?

My mostly used gear are zooms – 24-70mm and 70-200mm – but sometimes my soul calls for dreamy bokeh – so my father’s 50mm Carl Zeiss and my other favorite Canon 50mm f1.2 come out to warm my heart .

Do you have a favourite quote/lyric/saying that resonates with you the best? And why?

My favourite quote is by Karl Heiner: “Life is like a good black and white photograph, there's black, there's white, and lots of shades in between".

Life and photography are so diverse and there is room for everyone, any style, any opinion. Stay positive, tolerant and never give up!

What are some of your goals as an artist? Where do you see yourself or hope to see yourself in five years?

What are my goals? I hope not to get stuck and bored by my own photography. I will keep trying out new things and I also hope to be able to show the beauty of nature and love that is in the air and share it with other people – my way of trying to make this world at least a little bit better through it…

Life and photography are so diverse and there is place for everyone, any style, any opinion.  

“When I am not out photographing, I (like to)…

My 9 to 5 job can be very time consuming. I started learning Spanish as we were planning to go to Latin America next year... but now - who knows. I enjoy reading (not much lately, I must admit) and cinema, hiking and Nordic walking are my other hobbies."

Thanks, Assia!

All photos © Assia Starke

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