07 September 2017

An Idyllic Picnic in Russia

07 September 2017 - Written by Gemma Padley

Bathed in beautiful light, an ordinary picnic scene becomes magical in front of Frank Herfort’s lens.

© Frank Herfort, from the series, Time in Between

I took this image in 2010 when I started my photography project, Russian Fairy Tales, which is still ongoing. The project is about mysterious and magical things happening in Russia - trying to find and understand the famous 'Russian soul'. It does not have a particular theme as such, but rather it is an attempt to research deep-rooted and authentic life in Russia.

This image depicts a picnic scene on a Sunday evening during late summer in one of Moscow’s huge residential areas. The area is called Maryino, a district located within Moscow next to the Moskva River. There are a lot of people who live near to and relax on the big grass fields during weekends.

When I started living in Moscow I spent a lot of time driving around the city without a plan or idea. I wanted to understand how the city 'works' - how everything goes. This was just one location that caught my attention. The contrast between the rough environment with the electricity pylons and tower blocks and the romantic scene of people enjoying their picnics appealed to me. I would never choose such a place for a picnic or to relax! It made me think about how it can be that the people chose to stop there and how they might be feeling. There was no big amount of preparation for the shoot. I came back later that day hoping that someone would agree to let me photograph them. A lot of people had already left as the sun was setting.

I usually work with an idea but in an authentic, reportage way. I always ask people before I photograph them, though. I love real situations combined with perfect composition and lighting that manage not to lose their natural feel. I never shoot with my camera handheld - only in very rare moments; I don't find it a satisfying way to shoot. On this occasion a woman who was there with her child agreed to be photographed. I set up my tripod with my 4x5 camera in front of them. The sun had already set and the scene was in shadow. I made use of the sunset and I also put two studio flashes close to my subjects to light the scene. It looks very romantic in what is an un-romantic location.

Every time I make an image I want to create something that is strange and not understandable, but very warm, sympathetic, and romantic. You could say that this is a typical ‘Frank Herfort image’ - I love such scenes or ‘miracles’ and I’m always looking for what you might call strange and absurd situations. I’m fond of this image because all the elements come together to make it 'work'.

Most important with regards to my images is to create something pleasant, weird, funny, narrative, and magical, but also very human at the same time without being critical or making political statements; just pure and direct life in beautiful light.


Frank Herfort is a German photographer who divides his time between Berlin and Moscow. The contrasts and contradictions of life in contemporary Russia are the central focus of his artistic work.

Gemma Padley is a freelance writer and editor on photography, based in the UK.


Behind the Picture tells the story of an image by a photographer from the Photographic Museum of Humanity’s online community.

Written by

Gemma Padley

Reading time

3 minutes

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