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Morning Service @ Beth Shalom | Communities Project

A few weeks ago I had an opportunity to photograph the morning service at Beth Shalom temple in Squirrel Hill.  As part of my "Communities" project, I would like to document as many different Pittsburgh communities as I possibly can.  That being said, I have special interest in the Jewish community.  Having grown up in the Soviet Union, religion has always been a taboo topic at home or at school.  Also, given the ever-present antisemitism, I did not find out that I were Jewish until I was 12.  I've been learning more about my heritage and culture in the recent years thanks to my kids, but having an opportunity to observe and document a religious service was a welcome experience.  Many thanks to Rabbi Adelson and the Congregation Beth Shalom community for welcoming me.

Future violinist

A few weeks ago we had some friends over for a music night.  We invite friends who play various musical instruments and play anything from rock to bluegrass to pretty much anything.  This time we invited one of my colleagues - he plays the banjo and his wife plays the violin.  Daniella (who has been playing the piano for the past 3 years) became so fascinated with the violin that she immediately asked for lessons. This is us renting Daniella's first violin. 

My grandmother

As a general rule I don't post too many personal things on my business blog - I keep a separate blog for my personal projects/photography.  However, these photos mean a great deal to me.  My grandmother is 94 years old; she survived World War II, Stalin's repressions, a decade of life near the Arctic circle, and immigration to the United States.  She is one of the most important people in my life.  Unfortunately, because my grandmother lives in Norfolk, VA, I can only visit her 3-4 times a year.  Every time I visit, when I say goodbye, it always feels like I'm saying goodbye for the last time.  Every time I visit, we have the same argument about photography - she hates being photographed and I try to document every memory.  These photographs are from my most recent visit - May 9, 2015 (which is coincidentally the day when World War II ended). Hopefully I'll have many more moments with my grandma.

Spending time with my grandmother | Norfolk, Virginia

My grandmother Olga is 93 years old, soon to be 94.  She is an amazing woman and one of the most important people in my life.  Even though I talk to her on the phone about 3 times a week, I only get to see her 2-3 times a year.  Every time I take the drive from Pittsburgh to Norfolk, I promise myself that I will take a ton of photos of her; when I get to Norfolk I get caught up in shuttling my kids between my mom and my dad, doing family things and essentially not taking any photos of my grandmother.  This time I actually managed to stick with my intentions and over the last week I shot over a thousand digital frames of my grandmother and 4 rolls of film.  About half of the photos below were shot with a Canon 5D Mark III and processed with VSCO presets.  The rest were shot on Kodak 400 CN pushed to 800.

Geek photographer manifesto

It is 3:30 in the morning as I am sitting down to write this. Sophia (my 1-year-old daughter) woke me up about an hour ago and I cannot seem to fall back asleep. Truth be told, I have been thinking about this for a long time and in my “fastidious project manager” mode made pages of notes and lists regarding this subject. When we (photographers) first get into photography business, we usually concentrate on building a large client base at all costs. Very few photographers are picky about their clients, or about the projects that they take on. I know this because for years I had been guilty of that: I photographed weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, corporate events, products, families and babies, just to name a few. One day in the fall of 2003, as I was editing 1700 images from a product photoshoot, I realized that “specializing” in so many different things simply meant that I wasn't particularly good at any of them.

I sat myself down (at a bar, if memory serves right), ordered a shot (or three) of Grey Goose, and asked myself: “Dmitriy, what do you enjoy photographing the most?”

The answer was surprisingly easy – I liked photographing events. So I dropped everything else and stuck with weddings and Bar Mitzvahs. Now, almost 10 years later, I find myself in a similar situation.

Let me explain…

A few days ago I met with a very nice and beautiful couple who was planning a very high-end, high-fashion wedding. I talked to them for almost two hours, trying very hard to convince them to hire me as their wedding photographer. When I got home, I started thinking about the meeting. Here’s what went through my head.

  1. What the hell do I know about fashion? I am a jeans-and-a-t-shirt kind of guy.
  2. I could produce the types of images this couple wanted. After all, I used to photography beauty pageants. However, I shot my last fashion photograph 8 years ago – I did not like shooting fashion then and probably would not like it now.
  3. If I don’t like photographing fashion, I am not going to be excited about photographing this wedding. That’s not fair to the couple.
  4. I am the wrong photographer for this client.
  5. This client is wrong for me.

Brides spend an extraordinary amount of time picking photographers for their weddings, making sure they like the photographer’s style and personality. Photographers should do the same with their clients.

Yes, wedding photography is a business, and businesses need to attract clients and make money. However, at the same time it is our responsibility as photographers to provide the best possible service to brides and grooms, something that would be very difficult to do if we don’t like the couple, the venue, the style or the theme of the wedding.

I thought long and hard about what type of client I would absolutely love to work with. In my infinite nerdiness, I even drew a Venn diagram:)

Venn Diagram - My Ideal Clients | Dmitriy Babichenko PhotographyAnd, just like 10 years ago, the answer was surprisingly simple. I love working with geeks – science geeks, music geeks, photography geeks, tech geeks, comic book geeks; geeks in the best possible sense of that word. To me, the word “geek” = “passion”.  According to the all-knowing Google, the word geek has two definitions:

1. An unfashionable or socially inept person. 2. A person with an eccentric devotion to a particular interest: "a computer geek".

The first definition has never not really applied to my understanding of the word “geek”. The second one fits perfectly. Note the word “devotion” in the second definition. If you look up “devotion” in a thesaurus, you will see synonyms such as “dedication” and “passion”. Which brings me back to my original point – “geek” = “passion”.

A few years ago I met with a bride who had a PhD from MIT; we had the most fascinating conversation about superconductors. Last year I photographed a wedding for a couple where the groom made guitars in his basement as a hobby; he could also play a really awesome rendition of “Stairway to Heaven” on a mandolin. I had the privilege to work with a couple whose combined comic book collection contained over 2000 titles, some of them signed by Stan Lee.

I love working with passionate people, people who don’t take themselves too seriously, who are willing to strike the Superman pose, jump into a pool during an engagement session, or drive a golf cart at night over a rickety bridge. I love photographing people who are so in love with each other that the groom is willing to walk a city block with his eyes closed just to be surprised and awed by the first look at his beautiful bride; where the groom is not ashamed to cry in front of 200 people when his bride enters the sanctuary.

If you are a geek, call me – I cannot wait to meet you and photograph your wedding. Geeks need apply!

A Weekend of Revelations

When I was a kid, I spent 4 or 5 summers in a row in a small village near a Ukrainian town of Korosten'.  My grandfather and I would get on a train or a bus from my hometown of Gomel and take a 6-hour trip to his friend's farm.  Pavel and Galina (my grandfather's friends) had a small apple orchard and raised goats and rabbits.  To a kid a place like that was a paradise.  I spent my days swimming in the river, hiking, roasting potatoes on a bonfire and goofing off with local village kids.  I never wondered who Pavel and Galina really were and how they know my grandfather. This past weekend my mom asked me put together a book of old photographs as a present for my grandmother.  As we were going through a pile of old photographs, I came across the photograph below:Pavel and Galina

In the back, my grandfather is on the left and my grandmother is right next to him.  In the front row, the two people sitting down are Pavel and Galina.

As we started talking about people in this photograph, I asked my mom how my grandfather met Pavel and Galina.  As it turned out, like with most of my grandfather's friends, he met Pavel in Vorkuta GULAG.  Unlike his other friends, Pavel was not an inmate - as it turned out he was a guard at Vorkuta Mine #7 labor camp.  He was one of the good guys and from what my grandmother and my mom told me he saved quite a few lives.

It's been almost 10 years since Pavel passed away; Galina passed away 2 years ago.  I was absolutely shocked and amazed that I had known these people since childhood and had no idea about their relationship with my grandfather.

Who knows what else I find out in the next few days...