We never spoke while we were students at Rutgers. I didn’t know who she was, she didn’t know who I was, but we knew of each other. She thought I was mysterious, intense, and serious – what a clever ruse I’ve got going – I thought she was in charge of the graphic design lab, she had that air about her. Both of us turned out to be wrong. We finally met at the tail end of our last semester. I was asked to be the Managing Editor of “Scarlet Magazine” at Rutgers and she was one of the head designers. All of this while the pandemic was making its way everywhere. In-class sessions were cancelled and we all retreated to our homes to complete the semester. It was only after graduation that she, Nadya Andrianova, reached out to me to do a photoshoot over Zoom – the project she started to capture people in their respective quarantines. The shoot was delightful, and in fact we did two more. An inspiring free thinker, Nadya is making art with what she has – and that’s the best kind of art. I wanted to write about Nadya, but a traditional journalistic piece seemed too boring for her, so this will be what it’ll be.
Born in Russia, Nadya moved around quite a bit. She was born in a small rural town, moved to Russia’s second biggest city, St. Petersburg when she was 10, and moved a bit further west to Illinois when she was 14. The moves, every one of them, went smoothly; they were all work-related moves for her father. In her last year of high school, Nadya and her family moved again, this time to New Jersey.
When I interviewed Nadya the first time, I got her whole story. But the angle was wrong. The story isn’t that Nadya is an immigrant. It’s not that her journey was uninteresting, but it went smoothly. And so, I did a second interview to capture her as an artist. That’s what she is, an artist; where she came from is fascinating, but where she’s going is what matters.
“I had a pretty smooth journey,” said Andrianova, “I was pretty lucky in a lot of senses. I’m definitely grateful for everything my parents did.”
Towards the end of high school Nadya took a photography class, although she didn’t know it was specifically a film photography class until she got there. “I came in and it was a dark room and everything,” said Nadya. “He [her teacher] gave us all a point-and-shoot camera . . . I wish I learned more from him, I wish I asked him more.” This teacher – calm, accomplished, and modest – was Nadya’s first introduction to what would become one of her life’s greatest passions. One day, she took a photograph of a statue, printed it on photo paper, and showed it to her teacher. He broke his usually stoic calm and was enthralled with Nadya’s abilities – her sharp focus was like nothing he’d ever seen. It was this first acknowledgement that gave Nadya the sense that she was onto something.
“During my lunch breaks,” said Andrianova, “I didn’t really have a group of friends, I would just eat lunch in the art room, my teacher allowed me to do that. Usually I would just go into the dark room and develop more.” She wanted to use the resources at her disposal before she graduated.
Nadya had a friend who was a bit more knowledgeable about photography, and so he began to teach her what he knew. They graduated together, he lived nearby, neither drove, but they would meet up and create art – drawing, taking pictures, etc.
“Needless to say, he was my first model, basically,” said Nadya.
Her friend trusted her with his camera; and Nadya impressed her slightly more experienced friend with what seemed to be the innate ability to capture the moment. The two would travel to Central Park in New York City, taking long-exposure photos under the bridge. Her father bought her the same camera as her friend – why learn a new camera when the one you already know works so well? Nadya and her friend parted ways, but their friendship was the boost she needed to get started in photography.
Creative-types need to be nurtured. One of the worst things a person could do to a young creative person is discourage them or cheapen their passion. Having an artistic mentor early on can be the crucial difference between following your inspiration and saying, “Fuck it, I’ll be an accountant.” Creatives can be a fragile bunch, but we certainly never forget those first people that validated our output.
Nadya strayed away from film photography for a bit, returning to it in her junior year at Rutgers, but still loved the feeling and aesthetic of a film photograph. Once, on a trip to Niagara Falls with her family, her digital camera broke. Luckily, she had a few rolls of both black and white, and color film – roughly 200 shots. 200 may sound like a lot, but to digital photographers, it’s a drop in the bucket. And so, with film, Nadya began to develop her ability to capture a moment with a limited number of shots at her disposal. Sure, digital photography is easier and more manageable, but film has such raw character and the added danger of missing your moment.
“You don’t know what it’s going to look like,” said Nadya, “you just kind of imagine what it’s going to look like in your head.”
Many think that in art, there are no rules. And for the most part, that’s true. However, art often thrives within some defined parameters. Being given the free range to make anything you want can be so daunting, the possibilities endless. When you’re given absolute freedom, the results can vary. But, when you narrow things down and give yourself some restrictions, it can give way to something truly magical. I write best when I put myself on a defined path – no repeated vocabulary words, never use an exclamation point, don’t be cute, no slang. Film is a self-limiting medium, perfect for art.
She says she has a short memory, and so when she gets her shots back, it’s a surprise. With digital, you could see the immediate result, but with film, you play the waiting game to find out whether or not you got what you thought you did. But Nadya sees such character in the film photograph – the authenticity of all the imperfections, the artifacts of the past that find their way in.
Imperfection is the soul of good art, whatever it may be. It’s the things that are wrong with a piece of art – be it a song, a painting, a photograph – that add the most character. It’s the faults in an instrumental performance, the accidents that can make a photograph iconic. It isn’t perfection, it’s the natural opposite.
During the pandemic, quarantined as we all are, Nadya set out to find a project to keep herself productive while separated from the rest of the world. She decided on doing photoshoots over Zoom. She would set up a Zoom session to capture people in their environment, taking pictures of her computer’s display with her camera. But, Nadya being an artist, wasn’t content merely to take plain pictures. She began to treat her computer’s screen with tape, cellophane, post-it notes, flowers, a broken CD, a piece of a taillight, whatever fit the day’s session. She’d reshape the Zoom window and place things in her desktop background, changing her physical environment if need be. She doesn’t think much of it, but her artistic instinct with these photoshoots is truly remarkable. Knowing when and where to place her screen treatments is an exercise in timing, taste, and foresight – one which Nadya does with ease.
“I don’t plan ahead with these photoshoots,” said Andrianova, “I just react to what’s happening.”
Planning can ruin things. It structures a piece and frames it before it can grow organically into whatever it will be. Planning can really suffocate art. I didn’t prepare much for my interviews with Nadya because I wanted to have an honest, unstructured conversation, which we certainly did. Raw honesty dies with formality.
“For me, it comes a little bit from laziness,” said Nadya. “The most I prepare for these is an SD card and a charged battery. Before, I used to come in with an idea of what it might be like because I knew what my models looked like. But, I started taking more picture of people I’ve never taken pictures of. All I do in the beginning is give a disclaimer that this is an experiment.”
“The dynamic of each photoshoot is really different,” said Nadya, “so I really don’t know how to prep. I kind of want to allow the energy of the photoshoot to go naturally and see where it takes me sometimes.”
She calls it laziness, but isn’t that. She’s trusting that she can get something out of whatever the photoshoot can bring. She’s trusting her skill. If she was as lazy and unprepared as she claimed, her shoots would look like shit – they don’t.
“I don’t prep because I just trust the process,” said Andrianova. It takes years to let go and trust the process; it’s a lesson learned over years, one that can take a lifetime – but Nadya’s got it now, at 22.
Lately, Nadya has taken to live-streaming her artistic process on Instagram, collaborating and drawing with other artists over Zoom. What seems like a simple exhibition is actually a brave exposure of the artistic process that few rarely see. Andrianova allows us to see it all unfold.
A question occurred to me around halfway through the interview, I knew I had to ask her. We were winding down the interview and relaxed, so I asked one last question: “Do you see yourself as an artist?”
“That’s a tough one,” said Nadya. “I guess I am because a lot of people are yelling things in my ears that I am.”
“Making these Zoom photoshoots is definitely art and I think part of design as well . . . I have a sense of design when I do them as well. But yeah, I think I am an artist.”
She admitted it. Nadya Andrianova is an artist.
Find Nadya Andrianova:
Instagram: @nadyartime (art) @vesnushka_a (photography)