Bringing Memories to Life Through Photography

Personal memories take the form of photographs in Alexey Shlyk’s series, The Appleseed Necklace, inspired by his homeland of Belarus.

© Alexey Shlyk, from the series, The Appleseed Necklace

“Every time I think of my homeland, I am reminded how wonderfully resourceful and creative the people are,” says photographer Alexey Shlyk. It is this resourcefulness and the once prevalent DIY culture of ‘make-do and mend’ in the former Soviet country that Shlyk draws on in his series, The Appleseed Necklace.

Growing up in the late 1980s and 1990s, Shlyk remembers life as a time of constant shortages, “when one either had to find a way to ‘snatch’ what was needed or to make it out of accessible materials”, he says. 

"The work is about me as it is based on my personal memories, [but] it’s about creativity, craftsmanship, resourcefulness, diligence, recycling, and other qualities that are particular to the DIY lifestyle led by people from my homeland. In a way, it is an ode to creativity."

He adds that the series relates to what’s going on now, and the trend for up-cycling. “I think it’s important to not throw things away, but instead to restore, re-work, repair. I am trying to [show photographically] what was once a vital necessity.”

© Alexey Shlyk, from the series, The Appleseed Necklace

In this work, which takes its title from a necklace his grandmother made, Shlyk uses props and sets, which he makes himself or collects then breaks and remakes, and models, to literally bring his memories to life. He began working on the project in late 2015 shortly after he moved to Belgium to study a master’s degree at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. Responding to call to produce work for a project initiated by BredaPhoto on the theme of 'you', Shlyk was keen to present a positive narrative about Belarus and its people, away from the "brutal crackdowns" and dictatorship often reported by the media. 

"Having left my home country I could look at life there from a different perspective," he says. "One of the first things that came to my mind was the creativity and resourcefulness from my childhood, which is still an important aspect of life in the post-Soviet region.

"First of all I try to remember all the smallest details of a particular memory," he continues, describing his process. "When I have a very clear mental image, I start to look for the props and models that match the image in my mind."

© Alexey Shlyk, from the series, The Appleseed Necklace

Mixing soft artificial light with natural light, Shlyk aims to evoke a "hazy feeling" associated with memory, and colour features prominently too. "I start shooting with a very clear plan in my mind and I even have a sketch sometimes, but during the shoot I try to be open to the situation and use everything around me, which gives a certain degree of spontaneity and sense of surprise to the final image."

"I really love bringing to life the images I have constructed in my mind," he adds. "In photography, there is something magical, both in the process of making [each image] and [the image] as an object. [The photograph] is a documentation of reality but also a product of imagination - at the same time real and fictional, present and past brought together."

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Alexey Shlyk lives and works in Antwerp, Belgium. In 2017 his work was shortlisted for Prix Levallois and he became a laureate of Carte Blanche at Paris Photo.

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

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