“Four Questions on Photography: Ilvy Njiokiktjien in Conversation With…” is a series of events where well-known photographers discuss with Ilvy their response to the four questions below.
– What is your most important photograph, how did you make it, and what impact do you think it had?
– What is your biggest photo failure; an image you wanted or needed but you messed up somehow?
– What is your dream image or story?
– What advice would you give to your younger self?
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Thanks PhotoWings. It’s really amazing that we can do these events, truly, it’s really lovely. I’m so happy that I get to be able to do this one, but it’s also lovely to watch all the other events. Yeah.
Mary Gelman: Nice.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Yeah. That’s cool, right? Okay. So, four questions for Mary. Are you ready?
Mary Gelman: Four difficult questions for Mary.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Exactly. Kind of yeah. Did you find them difficult?
Mary Gelman: It’s a simple question. But when you try to answer, it’s quite hard. Because it’s, it’s deeply and yeah, you should think about a lot.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: It’s true.
Mary Gelman: You know, it’s some people ask you, what’s your favorite movie? And I’m always like, “Oh, my god. One? Only one?” It’s the same thing. What’s the one picture that’s important for you? And it’s, it’s quite difficult. It’s a difficult question, but I did it.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: I know they are very tricky. Yeah, but you did it. That’s the nice part. So before we, before we start with the questions, actually, I would like to introduce a bit about who you are as a photographer. But please, I’m going to read it out. But please feel free if you want to add anything to this. I know you as one of the lovely female members of VII. Yeah. And well you’re in St. Petersburg, we already know that. You’re a Russian photographer. But what I didn’t know. And I learned that today that you have a degree in sociology. That’s pretty cool and very handy with this job I feel. I regret that I never studied sociology. It’s such a good match. Right?
Mary Gelman: Yeah. It’s a nice and important match. I guess.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: And important yeah. Because it’s, I think it’s easier to understand many of the stories we’re working with. Okay, so Mary was involved in photography, after getting a degree in sociology, and focused on topics such as vulnerability and trauma, and its implication on life and ideology of alternative communities. And the most important part of her practice is diving deeper into the topics and interactions with people where the empathy, trust and understanding is significant. And with that last line, you also mean, winning the trust or gaining trust as a photographer, right?
Mary Gelman: Yeah, yeah.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Yeah. Gaining trust in that way. Yeah. Which is the trickiest but also most important part of our, of our job, I feel.
Mary Gelman: Yeah true.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Okay. There’s no more going around these questions. We’re going to start. Mary, what is your most important photograph?
Mary Gelman: I will show you.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Please.
Mary Gelman: This, this image of Minya and Tatyana in their room in the village, of Svetlana from the language region. This image is a part of a long-term project named M + T, what I was making around one year. And it was a story about love between an old couple with down syndrome. I followed them from the beginning of their relationship. And I aspire to of course, and I was starting to take pictures. And I taught Tatiana to take pictures too in Polaroid. And I will I would like to tell you a little bit about these people and a little bit about the background and then I tell you why this picture is important for me.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Yeah, please.
Mary Gelman: Yeah, the Tatyana she came to Svetlana from the village of Putana in the language region where she took care of her mother until her death and she was very independent, positive and stubborn. And the main thing her is other people look with kind eyes and smile, so they reaction to her. And she love to draw very much. And before Svetlana, she mostly likes to copy for paper and then the village to learn to draw devoted.
And Minya has been living in the village since the beginning. It’s, it’s for more than 20 years. And he always wrote documents when he presented himself as a president of this village Svetlana. But it’s not true. It’s not true. Because there no one is president. They against it, hierarchical model of community, but he imagined, and then he read pretty loud. It was important for him to feel himself busy and an important person. And that document is magic for him. And he writes about how the dealerships organized in his notebooks where the President walk, who lives in this village. It’s such a final accounting book. Yeah. And he always tells me that he’s not like that. Meaning that he’s not disabled. It’s important to feel not excluded. And like he’s a decent guy. Yeah.
Yeah. And they always spend time together. They love to wake up and fall asleep next to each other, hold hands and felt each other’s presence. And they were very tactile and openly show their feelings and until then they lived in different rooms. But the Tatyana permanently tracks things to Minya and so they prove their right to live together.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Such a sweet image.
Mary Gelman: Yeah and his sense of home and family was important in their life. Lives many of their friends were like brothers or sisters for them, daughters and sons. And Julie, one of Tatyana’s best friends, she considered her like a mother and that’s amazing for me because rarely do people with down syndrome live such happy lives at the edge in Russia. They could build their own little family life, show their love, be in love, be an active part of the village and be yourself. And the biggest dream for them was fading. It was important for the Tatyana to officially recognize that they’re husband and wife and to show the outside world they exist as a couple and as a family and therefore they were rings often lost them and got new ones.
And the Tatyana even had it in this girl in the village from guys one day it was really funny situation but for the Janet was such a bad experience in her entire life. Once the Tatyana and the other residents and Minya came to the shop and they bought wedding dress for Tatyana. But then one of the girls in this village stole this dress and threw it away.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Stole the dress?
Mary Gelman: Yes, yeah. And fruit. Yeah.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Oh, wow.
Mary Gelman: And the Tatyana was never found with dress. We don’t know what’s happened. But she was so unhappy in that moment that the wedding day didn’t come because Minya got sick. Then his mom. Then Tatyana came to the hospital for a whole year and then Covid. And then why this image is important to me because it’s my last time when I saw the Tatyana alive. After some months she died.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: No, oh.
Mary Gelman: Of coronavirus, as the doctor said. And when I took this picture, Tatyana was crying with Minya now because they had argued with their friend. And I supported them and after some time I took this picture in total silence. Yeah, but it’s my last time when I saw her and was with them together. Yeah.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: So sad for you. Because you can imagine now him.
Mary Gelman: Yeah, it’s it’s really big loss. Yeah, one of the close to my life. And I have a picture it’s Polaroid near to me with we together with.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Oh, that’s sweet. Wow, beautiful. So when did you when did you meet them? When did you?
Mary Gelman: I met them in Svetlana, in the village because…
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Oh but when?
Mary Gelman: When?
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Yeah, sorry.
Mary Gelman: Oh I guess it was 2016 when I, Tatyana came to the village in that time and that all people understood that Minya and Tatyana live together.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: What a sweet story and what a sweet, sweet, image.
Mary Gelman: Yeah. Sweet story and a sad end.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: A very sad end. Yeah. I’m a bit like, “Oh no,” because you can just see how perfect they are together. So this was after someone like or she had a fight with someone in the village or?
Mary Gelman: I think I think people there that people with special needs sometimes they argued with another friends and yeah, just that it’s typical. It’s typical.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Yeah just like small fights about?
Mary Gelman: Yeah after two hours she forgot about this. Yeah.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: But it’s such a sweet moment the way they are together and I can from the image I can also really see that. Yeah, you are there but they are really not minding you seems like? You’re very invisible here.
Mary Gelman: Yeah. Yeah, I think because I created project about Svetlana, this village around four years. And Minya, he saw me many times with camera. And I was not a person. I’m not. I was not an interesting person for them. I mean, a lot of reporters, they came to the village and make made a reportage about the village and it was like a bow like new guy one day, but I was there every month. I lived with them. And the camera is not it wasn’t such a special for them. It was, “Okay Mary with camera,” or Minya called me, “correspondent.”
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Oh beautiful.
Mary Gelman: Yeah, in his in his notebook, he wrote, “Mary, correspondent. She takes pictures.”
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: But it’s a much better word in a way for instead of photographer like, you’re not the kind of photographer who jumps into the story and leaves you’re really always very much invested and you take your time and you get to know people. So I think correspondent, I think it’s the perfect word. You’re in a place for a long time.
Mary Gelman: Yeah, correspondent for us, it’s toward from Soviet Union. Like now we say reporter, photographer or. Yeah, correspondent it’s something from the last time. It was funny to hear from him this. Yeah. But of course, of course, I have assignments. And, of course, I’m just in different place, sometimes one day for three days. But in my personal project, it doesn’t work. So it’s, I prefer to be with people, to live with them, to understand their kind of in a world of this people make a trust relationship. Yeah, that’s, that’s what I took from sociology. Yeah. Because it’s the same things what I did in sociology, but of course, it’s more objectively way, blah, blah, blah. And photography, it’s difficult and I guess it’s not so interesting for me to make a long distance, the more interesting for me to create relationship when people used to see you. And just they trust you, believe you and I don’t know, something like this.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: But I can imagine that way of working which is also the way that I personally like to work to really dive in and stay longer. And it can get quite painful in situations like this when someone passes away because you’re part of you feel like part of their lives because you know them very well. But you’re also in a way, maybe an outside, maybe not an outsider, but you’re… yeah, I don’t know. It’s a difficult position sometimes.
Mary Gelman: Yeah, exactly. Because sometimes your personal boundaries. That’s, that’s difficult. And I think, for me, I just, I used to, to, to feel myself like this. So it’s not difficult for me, but, uh, when the person that your friend died, of course, it was unexpectedly. And it was like, right, yeah. Yeah. And it was a huge pain for me inside.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: I’m imagining because it was because of Covid that the distance there was you couldn’t go to a funeral? I’m imagining because of the restrictions.
Mary Gelman: No.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Yeah.
Mary Gelman: Yeah. And yeah, mostly, mostly this. Yeah.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: There are two questions coming in, in the q&a box. Well, one is in the chat actually. Guys, if you have any questions, please put them in the q&a box. But there is one in the chat from Rosie. And the question is, “Did she paint the painting on the wall behind them?”
Mary Gelman: Ah, I will try.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Oh, yeah. Which one is it? Which one would you choose? How do we describe this? Someone sitting in a…
Mary Gelman: At a table.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: In a big chair at a table, yeah.
Mary Gelman: Yeah. Actually, I don’t know because I think it’s a gift from someone to Minya. But now the room looks another. It’s a lot of pictures of Tatyana and with friends, with his mother. And you know, it’s a huge room of the memory, I think. Because yeah, he really loves to, just to see and to watch, to look at their pictures and yeah. And this picture, I think it’s a just a gift from someone. Yeah.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Oh sweet, that it’s now like a whole memorial sign.
Mary Gelman: Now it’s more interesting.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: And the other question that came in is from Anistas, “How do you find your stories? Do you think you need to be personally related to the topic to make an impactful work?”
Mary Gelman: Good, it’s a good question. I think, hm. I think I’m always try to find something interesting in the person or in community or something like this. I don’t care about long term project is or it’s short, I will just try to find something interesting. And to give the some empathy to other people. I, I think we have we don’t have a lot of laughs around us, and mostly a lot of hate. Aggressive, toxic people relationship. So for me, it’s more important to find something in the person or in the story and to to give the this empathy. And I think in in every, every situation, in every story, you can find something something personal.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: That’s beautiful.
Mary Gelman: In my experience, I never did something what I didn’t understand on a personal level, because it’s, I don’t know humanity and character, or yeah.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: It’s interesting how that works, right? Because with some stories, you might at first and think, “Oh, this is kind of far away from my own, whatever world that I’m in.” And then you dive into the story and you realize, “Oh, wait, I see a lot of similarities and I now understand.”
Mary Gelman: Yeah.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: It’s weird how that works. Really like you say, it’s humanity, we’re all quite similar. Even if we want it or not, we really are.
Mary Gelman: Yeah, exactly. And if a person again, a person, I don’t care a person, community or topics or it’s a people, which I don’t like maybe because I don’t know, they are oppressive and I don’t like oppressive or something like this. But I’m always try to understand why or motivation or, you know, it’s helped me to give empathy. That’s a huge compliment from sociology, I guess. Because they’re always try to be like a researcher and try to distect motivation, mood or why or what for? And try to understand person better. And that’s give you some energy and curiosity. Yeah.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Yeah, I kind of understand what you’re saying I used I photographed racist, right wing organization years ago. And you go into an organization like that into camp, and I was thinking certain things about these people. And you go there and you end up seeing, “Oh.” When you go into a story care with curiosity, you can learn a lot.
Mary Gelman: Yeah, exactly.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Also, from people that you don’t agree with, in any way. But you realize, “Oh, okay, that’s how they think. Oh, and that’s why they got to this point.” Or something like that. Yeah.
Mary Gelman: It’s like then you’re, you’re a teacher, you’re like a therapist, and try to understand why a person has this behavior, or what speaks to the person or some piece and you’re always. It’s helps, it helps to do the story if you don’t like or it’s not so interesting just curiosity.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Yeah, no I agree. Okay. I asked a couple of questions that I actually wasn’t allowed to. But let’s go to number two, because I can only ask four, but I just snuck a few more in. And thanks for the great questions in the chat guys are sorry, in the q&a box. So the second question is, what is your biggest photo failure? Yeah, maybe it’s that you mess up somehow or an image that you’re just not feeling it? I don’t know, could be anything.
Mary Gelman: Crazy, crazy question.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Sorry.
Mary Gelman: No, I mean it’s a good question. And it’s, it’s was quite difficult for me to to find the answer, but I found one. It was long time ago. And this, this question. It was very complex for me, because I don’t try to focus on situation when something didn’t exactly go as I planned. I tried to be flexible. Don’t expect too much from me or from situation. That’s okay. And thank you therapy for these. I learned it sometimes. But sometimes exists something more than you can control or your imagination and you feel your helplessness. And this picture is from unfinished project about suicide among LGBT teens in Russia I started in 2016. It was quite more difficult than I expected. Many LGBT teens don’t do coming out of their parents. And of course, don’t tell them about suicidal attempt. But we and we have a law if I would like to publish picture of minor I have to take a permission of parents of course. And it was a dead end. Yeah, because coming out, no. A lot of children, students tell about this suicide with parents but they have a lot of attempt. And I tried take picture without face and something like this, but lawyers told me it doesn’t work. Yeah, and.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: And why? I mean, to me this if you know the story to me, this is a very strong image. And it makes total sense there’s no face.
Mary Gelman: Yeah, but the lawyers told me that they can recognize the room and they recognize the some elements of her body, for example, and we have a homophobic law against the propaganda of homosexuality among minors. It’s yeah, that’s crazy law. But yeah, it’s terrible when you want to speak out about the important things, but what’s happening now, but everything is against you. So the mostly parents, homophobic parents, the law and yeah. And you know, the children, I guess feel loneliness because how to how we can share about this in society when society ignore it?
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Yeah no one will see it.
Mary Gelman: Yeah, just say, “It’s verbatim like to talk about this. It’s propaganda or blah, blah, blah.” Yeah. So it was. Yeah, I have only four pictures from this. And it was, there was strange experience when I took this picture. And because we were alone in her room and apartment, her mother was in a job. And I felt myself like, spider.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Yeah. A secretive, yeah.
Mary Gelman: Yeah. Like, secret guy who tried to create a project about poor girl who difficult to hell to leave some bs homophobic society and like, she felt loneliness and lalala.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: And that’s not a nice way to work in any way. I mean.
Mary Gelman: Yes, I felt myself bad. Yeah, and yeah, I decided to stop. And I think sometimes just take your time, what I’ve said maybe later, or, of course, I can take this project and published in foreign countries. But for me, it was important to, to published here and to try to talk about this because, yeah. You know, it’s easy way to do something in other country. Yeah, just for being alone. But yeah. Yeah. But for me, it’s more important to do it for LGBT teens in Russia.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Yes, of course, I can imagine. So now you photographed three different people or you’re saying that you have three different images of the same person? Or you have three?
Mary Gelman: Three different LGBT teens. Yeah, another girl and man. And then I stopped because I understood it doesn’t work. It’s it’s, it’s not. It’s not good for. It’s good for it was good for teens, because we talked a lot and it was really nice when someone older can talk about you, understand you and support you. And it was nice. It was good, therapy affect. Yeah? But in for the project, it was nothing because no one can see it. I can tell me about this, but it’s difficult to tell about to tell in society.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Yeah. And do you? Does it really feel as a failure to you or more like what do you call it? Like? What’s the word?
Mary Gelman: Challenge?
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Yeah like being in between? Yeah, like being in between something you’re kind of hanging there with a great project. I mean, the story is, is really strong. The subject is the image is beautiful, but it’s like you’re kind of stuck for other reasons feels like. It feels very unfair almost more than a failure to me, but I don’t know. Like I mean, it’s such a great story and important story to tell. Or does it feel like a failure like you failed? Did you feel you failed? Or?
Mary Gelman: I think for me when you, when you have situation when you feel that everything is against you, it’s failed. But like, you know you in that time, we didn’t have a lot of supportive initiative groups like now because now that’s, it’s quite a bigger. We have magazines, we have a lot of articles about LGBT and blah, blah, blah. But of course, homophobic level is quite hard. But in that time, I felt that I’m alone, and Laura can’t help me. The state against me. I can’t help these children. And, you know, it’s, I felt like it’s a huge, crazy failed, I don’t understand. Yeah. And it was quite difficult. I understood it, but that you can’t continue if, because. And some children, they, I wanted to take pictures at home, in their room, because mostly they made attempts in the room. But some people leave with grandmother, with mother, with brother and who I am? And it was difficult to go inside in the room because..
Ilvy Njiokiktjien:Because the family members wouldn’t know that. Yeah. Our daughter was part of the…
Mary Gelman: LGBT. And, and it was quite difficult to find another place because they are teens and control from parents and blah, blah, blah. So you know, it’s complex.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Do you feel, because in the chatbox, Anastasia, saying, “I wish you luck to complete it in the future?” Like, are you? Yeah. Are you kind of diving into it again, now that it might be a bit easier or?
Mary Gelman: No.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: You really want to?
Mary Gelman: I think it’s not good time now to do it, because the situation is much shitty?
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: You can say it.
Mary Gelman: Yeah, because we have a lot of repression, foreign agents, pressure to journalist and it’s quite, yeah. I don’t know that the government’s too much care about children, but it’s not right way. So I think I will finished this. I will finish this story, but I should feel that it’s time to do it.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Did you stay in contact with the three people that you photographed so far?
Mary Gelman: With two of them. Yeah. And they are not. They are more than 18 years old.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Okay. Well, that makes it a bit easier for publication.
Mary Gelman: Yeah, yeah. Yes.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Oh, Frieda’s asking a question about this image in the q&a. And the question is, “Can you tell us how you came to this image? Like in detail what was happening at the moment?”
Mary Gelman: I used to.. It was Hasselblad middle format. It was film and in that moment, before we talked, and a lot and then we, we were sitting in it was a little bit talk. And on the this lighter behind her, you see and yeah, she just she was sitting in the bed on her bed. And we talked and then I just took picture. Yeah.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: And you asked her to kind of face the well, I guess?
Mary Gelman: Yeah. And you asked her to kind of face the well, I guess? Yeah, yeah. Because I heard about the problems what I have with law and la la la. Yeah.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: There’s one more question in from Anastas, “Did they come out to their family if you know?” Most of them didn’t try it you just said or maybe none of…
Mary Gelman: No one.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Too much fear of, yeah, angry parents, grandmothers?
Mary Gelman: Yeah. Yeah. Kick out from home. That’s of course very afraid or just angry, aggressive reaction. I don’t know.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Yeah, sad. Okay, I’m thinking timewise. We should move to question three and looking from and knowing your stories, I’m very curious to know what you’re going to answer to this because the question is, “What is your dream image or story?” And it doesn’t necessarily have to be something that’s real. I mean, it could be that you would love to photograph on Mars or whatever. I mean, that’s could be possibly happen, but it could be anything. It doesn’t have to become reality. But what would you like to photograph?
Mary Gelman: I thought about reality. Yeah, yesterday, I talked with my partner about this. And I just said, like, Oh, my God dream project, dream story. What is it?” That’s a huge question. Oh, my God. I don’t know. I don’t know. I didn’t think a lot about this. You know, I’m just in process and I’m always thinking about the project. Not like, which will sometimes in my life, or it’s like a goal when I’m going to this project. And, and I guess, I guess, I would like to it’s not like a dream project. But I think it’s important with building a port project in for me. It’s about my native city. Yeah. And
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: What is your native city?
Mary Gelman: Penza. It’s a small, small city in Russia. And actually, I left the city when I was 18 years old. And I hate headed to city. I don’t know. It’s it’s just, I had a lot of bad experience there. And I don’t know. It’s a cold city for me. I mean, cold, like, emotionally cold. I don’t feel nothing. And I think I would like to figure out to try to learn the city, when I’m, like, 27 years old.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Maybe with a different vision now.
Mary Gelman: Yeah, different optic of my eyes
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Literally. That’s funny, and yeah. And, and do you still have? Is their family or their friends still back there? Or like, did you leave a whole kind of thing behind?
Mary Gelman: Yeah, my parents live there and my grandmother. And, yeah. Only in last year I was there. It my was my first time. Because I did a five year break, I guess. Yeah. It’s not my favorite city to visit. But I think I don’t like the position that you should. Like, that you hate your last experience or you hated something. Or you? I don’t know, just cancel your experience in last time. And I think I would like to, to feel the city…
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: In a more maybe equal way with ups and like, yeah, give it a chance in a way?
Mary Gelman: Yeah, to give it a chance. Yeah. And I know how the city changed and economically, politically and it’s interesting to, to understand and to find the city with different perspective, not only my childhood or, I don’t know, crazy teens in school or something like this. Yeah. So I guess it’s, I don’t know, maybe when I will old person, I would like to take a project about my native city, my memories.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: And do you think you will if you would do a more personal project like that for you. I guess it’s quite reflective as well. Would you then turn the camera towards family members and friends and I don’t know your old school or the places that were important to you? Or would you more tell the story through new narratives about people that you don’t know yet?
Mary Gelman: I think it’s interesting new narratives. And plus to include some people from the city, like my grandmother for example.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: To make it a bit more personal? Oh there’s a long question coming in.
Mary Gelman: Where I don’t see, ah.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Okay. Let’s see. From Paul, “This is not negative in any way, shape, or form, I hope. These two images are set moments extremely well-structured, technically superb images, yet the emotion shines through and overpowers the technique. Is that a hallmark of your work Mary? Really amazing work that is really quite inspirational.” Can you read it?
Mary Gelman: Yes, I try. I try.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: I see you getting closer to the screen.
Mary Gelman: It’s not so beautiful, I guess, but I try to.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: So I guess the images, or the question is, what’s the word? Lovely to have a show with two non-native English speakers. So what’s the word? It’s like if the beauty of an image takes away from the story? Is that kind of a question entails? If the, I don’t know, the emotion shines through and overpowers the technique is that a hallmark of your work? I’m lucky it’s your question. There you go.
Mary Gelman: I don’t know. That’s, it’s a good good question. But I don’t, I didn’t think a lot about this, how it works. How, for me, it’s important for me to when a person like the subject of the story, don’t focus on the process of photography. So that’s the most important for me, because like, a relaxed situation with the subject it’s only when person don’t focus on the process of photography. At time help you always, I guess. And these pictures, the first I knew them a long time. They believed me, they trust me, they knew me. And the second picture, we met two times we talked a lot. I’m only one person who supported her among her friends. And older person. And of course, it’s helped me to have a time in the process of photography than she I know like she has a I guess I called it trance effect. Like when you focus on your mind or look at the window and just forget about photography. Sometimes. Yeah, this is quite interesting for me sometimes in the portraits, but of course sometimes it’s I prefer to in other ways just to show me something but it’s but in a personal mostly this, yeah. When people are distracted to this process.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: When they’re not part of the, when they really don’t see you?
Mary Gelman: Yeah, yeah, like you. Like, like you’re not, not here.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: I think I think as well, if I, the work that I know from you really kind of has that. I know there’s a lot of emotion in it, but the imagery is extremely strong. Like it always seems almost like it’s like a movie. It’s also the light. It’s very almost unreal. The beauty in the images, it’s so soft. And I really think that is actually a hallmark of your work in a way.
Mary Gelman: Thank you very much.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: It’s beautiful. So we’re at the last question. Well, my last question, but please, anyone feel free to ask questions in the q&a If you have any. But my last question is, “What advice would you give your younger self?” You are still quite young, but even younger self.
Mary Gelman: I don’t like to give advice. But what I can say, from my experience, just don’t be afraid of your difficulties because, in life, they’re all this there, of course. And sometimes the most difficulty is your own voice, which tells you that you’re not worth something or you’re not a good one to do this crucial, critical voice, which stops you and eats you up inside. And just say, to this voice, “Shut up, I can do.”
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: That’s good advice. Just shut up. It’s interesting because we’ve done or I’ve done a couple of episodes now. I don’t know how many but let’s say, five, I guess. And seems like we’re all struggling with similar feelings like this. The voice that says, “Oh, you’re you’re not good enough as a photographer, or as a storyteller, or the story is not or,” I don’t know, could be anything. But yeah, I think that would be great. A great way to silence this negative voice is to just say, “Shut up,” very loud. And even out loud. People might think you’re a bit weird but. So did it did this did the opposite of that kind of slow you down in your process of becoming a photographer? Did that voice really slow you down in some way?
Mary Gelman: It makes me nervous sometimes. Yeah. But it was. Now I don’t have problem with this, because I can tell with this voice. But three years or four years ago, it was quite difficult. It was like a huge pressure inside me. And, and you feel like, you have no energy, you spend your own resources only just for this critical voice inside you. And I understood the situation like we live in society where success it’s so important. Or you always compare yourself with different people. And you know, the social media. And I think the nicest is a digital detox. And the second is like, just to practice meditation, and to three it’s therapy, it’s quite nice experience when you try to, to find a way to talk with this voice inside. And yeah.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Very true. That’s, um, those three are very, extremely important because if you don’t do this kind of self-care it can slow you down in your life, but also in your creative life. Because I think that’s the main problem we have as photographers are that we kind of is our job. It’s not the job we do, but it’s kind of a job we are. That’s how I see it. So if you’re not aligned with yourself, it’s very difficult to do your job or be your job.
Mary Gelman: Yeah, yeah, exactly.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Yeah, it’s very, very true. There’s a lot of love throughout this chat that we had coming in, in the chat, by the way. Jeffrey’s saying, “Thank you so much for being here and for sharing your pictures and story.” And Anastas said, “Mary’s ability to go deep and touch people’s souls and show it with her work is remarkable.” So yeah.
Mary Gelman: Thank you very much. So nice, thank you. Thank you share you.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: “Mary is inspirational,” says Mira. I totally agree. So true. You really are an inspiration. You’re amazing. And I’m so glad you came here even though you had your surgery just now. Like it was just now right, today? Yeah?
Mary Gelman: Yeah. And I think in next episode of Matrix, I will be an actress there.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: I think so too. It was amazing having you here. Thanks so much. Oh, Frieda saying, “Great work.” Thanks, everyone for watching as well. And thanks, Mary for all your time. I hope in a couple of days you will see super sharp. I really hope it recovers well.
Mary Gelman: Maybe, I will see some I not see. Yeah. Thank you very much. Thank you, everyone. I would like to tell you, good luck. Give it empathy. Take care of yourself.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Beautiful. Thank you so much. And for everyone that’s watching. There are two episodes of four questions coming up one on the first of March with Alia Kratie. I’m really looking forward to chatting to him because it’s been a while since I spoke to him, and on the 29th of March with Danny Wilcox-Fraser so please feel free to join and thanks so much again for being here. And thanks, Mary.
Mary Gelman: Yeah, thank you Ilvy. Thank you.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Bye. Bye, everyone.
Mary Gelman: Bye.