Whether it’s family, friends, teachers, or strangers on the Internet, encouragement is often essential to providing an artist with that confidence they need to continue pursuing their craft. Like many of the photographers we have met over the last month, Alina Tsvor discovered photography as a teenager. She knew she enjoyed taking photos, but it wasn't until she shared them with her friends and a new found audience on social media, that she realized it could be a career.
For an afternoon in Chicago, Alina Tsvor led a group through the streets of Pilsen, the neighborhood where she lives, sharing tips and tricks; and more importantly, providing a space for participants to inspire and encourage each other.
Juxtapoz: When did you first become interested in photography?
Alina Tsvor: I first became interested in photography when I was in high school and there was a Yearbook class. I remember I picked up a camera, and I was like, "Okay, I'll just go walk around the school, and capture all this content that I wanted us to get." At that time I really didn't know anything about photography but with MySpace and all these social media platforms, I just kind of put it out there. People would tell me, "Oh, wow, this is like really good," and I thought, "Oh okay, maybe I should keep doing this." So that was about the time I decided to go to Chicago, and study photography at Columbia College. I wouldn't say I had much experience before coming to college. It wasn’t really until I got thrown into it that I realized, "Okay, this is happening."
Would you say it was a combination of people telling you that you that your photos were good and the enjoyment of taking them? How important encouragement from others?
I definitely enjoyed it, capturing candids of my friends, either on a road trip on the coast, or just hanging out. Because I knew them so well, those photos came out pretty natural. I think it was because of that, that I thought it could be a good career path. But also people saying they were good encouraged me to think that there's something in me that could do this.
What was your focus in college?
I studied commercial and fashion photography. I went intensely into fashion, styling and all of that. So that was a lot of fun, learning all the studio tricks, and how to work with people and models.
Did you find working with models and photographing people who weren’t your friends difficult?
It was at first. If I didn't know those people and they weren't models, it was hard for me because you have to spend a little bit of time and get to know them. But usually models just get it and I would come up with a story or mood board for a shoot so they could pick up from what I tell them and kind of create their own thing. So it's a collaboration. You just find this connection with anyone that you're photographing, and it just starts flowing. Maybe the first five minutes is awkward, but then it's better.
How do you approach your commercial projects? Do you usually pitch something or do they come to you with something to execute?
If there's something that I'm really into I’ll pitch it but usually clients come to me with something in mind or at least a draft or a mood board of what they're going for. Some clients know exactly what they want and that's exactly what you're going to produce. Others will say, "This is what we want to do, but how would you approach this?” Sometimes I’ll send back a few notes of my own, and sometimes it's a collaboration, it depends. Sometimes I'll have something really fun that I want to do for the client and I’ll create my own deck and send it out.
What kind of things do you like to shoot when you don’t have commercial work?
Lately, I've been more interested in fashion photography. Some of my personal work would be getting a model and a team of stylists, getting hair and makeup and just kind of coming up with a shoot, coming up with a concept and just going for it. My personal work is more of this fashion world, because I feel I'm not there yet as a fashion photographer, so I do a lot of these kind of test shoots to kind of get my portfolio to where I want it to be.
Who are some of your favorite photographers?
I love some of the classics, like Annie Leibovitz and Steven Meisel. Currently, one of my favorites is Petra Collins. I think she opened up this new style for people to understand that it doesn't have to be like all perfect, commercial, and glassy.
You travel a lot, what is one of your favorite places you’ve been?
A really fun client was going to Finland for Finland Tours. It was a really cool experience and Finland was really cool. I think Asia is a big focus of mine. I did a month in Hong Kong, China, Vietnam, Thailand, all of these are super fun places. And if you're into shooting street and landscape, and that photojournalistic style, you're really going to love it. You're going to find a lot of things to shoot everyday. There's just so much action happening all the time. But yeah, take me anywhere, I'll go! I look forward to traveling more.
What is it that makes one photographer’s work stand out and be unique from another’s?
I think it's the way someone sees the world. Some people see it as super wide and they'll photograph the street, with everything in the shot. Others might zoom in on a detail or a vendor selling something on the street. I think it's people's eye and their style will kind of separate them from others. It really depends on what they're into and what their personal view of the world is.
It's interesting about being introspective because you think of photographers as being extroverted and good with people, but a lot consider themselves introspective.
Exactly. I have so many examples in my life of photographers who just keep to themselves and don't like to be out there too much. But they make beautiful work, finding whatever it is that speaks to them and bringing it on set somehow.
You learn so much from observing. I love going into the busiest streets I can find, sitting there and seeing how people interact with the world, and what they do. You learn a lot.
What advice do you have for people who are just starting to be interested in photography, about how to approach furthering their craft?
If you're just starting out, you should really find a mentor, or someone you can intern for. You will learn so much and you'll learn things that you wouldn't learn otherwise. Learn how they do business, how they approach clients, learn how they are on set. I think that's the first step for anyone. Because, if you don't do that, then you'll spend a couple years try to do figure that out on your own. And besides that, just shoot everything and eventually find that one style you're good at and hone in on that one thing because your portfolio really can't look like ten thousand different things.
I suggest finding that one thing you're really good it, and just kind of keep doing that. Maybe it's landscapes, maybe it's car photography, maybe it's street stuff. I think people recognize people that are doing something well and consistently. Be consistent in your craft, and I think the rest will follow.
Did you assist for other photographers?
Yeah, I was still in college, when I assisted for a fashion photographer in Chicago, Kirsten Miccoli, and I really look up to her. Even now, I think she's doing some of the best fashion work in this city, so I kind of started with that. Learned a little bit about studio from her, as well as from school. And, yeah, just kind of observed what happened on set, and there's a few other photographers I assisted for, just kind of learning how they deal with client, how they talk to clients, how they deal with situations. And you can pick up the technical aspects of things. How did they light the subject, or what equipment they use, so things like that are helpful.
Why did you pick this neighborhood for the walk?
I love Pilsen. I live here so I thought it would be really fun. Everyone always shoots downtown. It's not an obvious neighborhood you would go to photograph, but there's a lot of hidden gems. You can find fun little street art everywhere, graffiti, little corners that are unexpected, and I love that.
Where else do you find inspiration?
I read a ton, random things, fiction, nonfiction. I love to travel. Sometimes I don't have an inspiration and I have to tell myself, "Okay, I just have to do this anyways and figure it out.” I love looking at magazines. I buy a ton of magazines. It's so funny, I'll go in and leave notes on pages, "Oh, this lighting inspires me," or, "This outfit inspires me." But then I'll stick at post-it note on it, "But I would add these shoes to it instead." I keep an archive of things that inspire me. It's not about copying what someone did. It's thinking, "Okay, this light is cool, but then I would take this light and use it on this subject." It’s a way of learning.