Maksim Shmeljov photography

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23 Feb 2015How I found myself feeling quite rich

I had the idea of moving my photography-related activities to a designated space for a long time, really. I think that’s understandable. I’m sure most of you would agree that having to shoot late at night, spend an hour on setting up your workspace and then half of this time on putting everything away sounds exciting only at first. Afterwards you would much rather spend this time on something more pleasant like having a cup of coffee or smoking a cigarette.

So, we started to look for a studio. By “we” I mean me, Dusya and her boyfriend Yanek. The search wasn’t long. By the end of 2008 we briefly looked at a couple of places and then, all of a sudden, we had an almost perfect space on our hands.

That’s how it happened… was leaving the country. Before that she owned a small studio in Ülemiste, Tallinn. She really wanted to leave it in good hands, so she started looking for people who might be interested in buying on the Internet. As soon as Dusya discovered the advertisement we were already making our way through many stairs and corridors of the building on Suur Sõemäe 8a.

For many years this building was home to a hospital for workers of “Dvigatel” – the biggest factory in Soviet Estonia. Nowadays, everyone who is interested in history knows that it was used for manufacturing parts for military rockets.

The former hospital is a four story building that hasn’t seen a major renovation in decades. Many things here remind of the Soviet era: time worn walls, stairs, an old elevator and dark long corridors. Maybe this is what makes the atmosphere here so creative.

By then the studio had a very distinctive imprint of feminine touch – peach colored walls, paper hearts, a bunch of old soviet armchairs upholstered with exotic colored cloths. After measuring the place with a laser ruler we got something close to 60 square meters of space.

In 2008 it was more than enough for us. I was still reluctant to consider photography as my primary field of work, and for Yanek and Dusya it was simply a hobby. We didn’t take us very long to decide that this is going to be our temporary studio. Well, as time had passed, I came to a realization that temporary things actually live the longest.

What spoke in favor of this place was a very good location, the fact that it already had a cyclorama and a separate space for a dressing room. The price was great and we had a very reasonable owner to deal with, which is a very rare thing these days.

We spent several weeks on doing cosmetic repairs, such as taking old posters off the walls, throwing out old pictures, paper hearts, extending the cyclorama, painting, rearranging furniture, and getting rid of all sorts of junk. At the same time we haven’t thought of repainting the walls and for half a year all the models on our pictures had a sort of peachy, reddish hues to their skin tone and clothes.

But, to be honest, we did not care about the colors and the hues at that time. We've finally got our own studio – a space where you could do whatever you want, without having to assemble and disassemble the lighting equipment, where you could put tons of your stuff and where at last you start to feel like a real photographer.

My main advice that can be given to anyone who is going to devote his life to photography – you need to have your own studio. This is going to push you forward like nothing else in terms of professional development. Even if at first you have only four soft boxes with flashes and a white background, it can be enough. During your long journey on the boundless ocean of studio photography, even a little boat might prove useful.

Now the studio that we call “Dvigatel”, bears little resemblance to that place on Sõjamäe street. But we’ll get to that. Meanwhile let us move to somewhere between 2008 and 2009.

At the time, I was constantly shooting, looking for new models, establishing connections with local make-up artists and hairdressers. Around this time I became acquainted with make-up artist Anna Baranova, beautiful model Olga Krylova and hairdresser Kate Karpachova. At the same time I also started to realize that photography can bring significant income. Sometimes even comparable to my newspaper salary. Of course I had to start getting up earlier and going to sleep later. I was processing and uploading my pictures to stock websites, reading forums for stock photographers and photographers in general, experimenting and, all in all, feeling really good about myself.

When you’re working on something this big with other people, it is important to have similar values and attitude to your work. Otherwise, very soon you will begin to feel considerable tension. For example, me and Yanek had very different views on how the studio should operate. Without going into detail, I just have to say that it became clear that sooner or later one of us will be forced to leave. And at some point I even felt that it’s going to be me…

In the spring of 2009 I found myself feeling quite rich. I had a great job in the newspaper that was fun and had lots of bonuses, like free passes to many shows and events and having a brand new company car with a full tank every weekend. On top of that, I had a small business of my own.

And, in spite of it being small, I already have a studio, lots of models and a considerable income. All in all, it gave me a really magical feeling, like anything was possible for me.

I started to rent a sea view apartment in Kadriorg, furnished with antique furniture, spend my every weekend in clubs, throwing money all over the place. In other words, I was living the life that I always wanted to have.

It all ended very soon… More on that in the next post.