Linda Omelianchuk Portfolio Contest Winner
Words: George Slade
Linda Omelianchuk’s photographs suggest the value of photography as a medium for exchange. Each of the portraits here, of vendors in markets around the world, reflects a transaction. Omelianchuk may not have purchased the foods these men were selling, but she has clearly engaged in a trade of sorts. As the photographer Diane Arbus explained, “The camera is a kind of license. A lot of people, they want to be paid that much attention, and that’s a reasonable kind of attention to be paid.” What we are seeing in this work, then, is reasonable commerce between an attentive viewer and an appreciative human subject.
Reason, however, isn’t really the motivating factor behind these portraits. Appreciation and curiosity are far stronger. Omelianchuk is a wanderer and a collector of experiences. “Since I love experiencing diverse cultures, learning different viewpoints in life and challenging myself to create meaningful images,” she decided in 1998 that “the best postgraduate education I could gain would be to travel in other countries with other photographers and mentoring teachers.” Her goal is “to create images of engaging situations and captivating forms which communicate a story, a mood, a spirit, a philosophy, a memory or an emotion.”
One suspects, too, that the expressions borne by these faces reflect the character of the photographer. Remember how Arbus’ and Richard Avedon’s subjects look in their photographs? Little if any of the charm and ease we encounter in Omelianchuk’s vendors surfaces in the work of those prodigious portraitists. “Although I have photographed many images of people’s loneliness, solitude and compassion, I also want to capture some glimpses of joy and humor in life that help add to our sense of well-being.”
This photographer seems to know just where she should stand to make the most compelling image, one that captures both the mercantile context of each vendor and something of the individual’s personality. We see these men head on, face to face, and the exchange is somehow relaxing. We see how they respond to the photographer, not just the camera. It’s easy to imagine how a different photographer would be temp
ted to avoid contact, to make surreptitious snapshots of “exotic” food stands. Appreciate that Omelianchuk is not that photographer.
Ukrainian by ancestry, Wisconsinite by birth, Atlantan by current residence and world traveler by acquired habit, Omelianchuk appreciates the creature comforts of her home life. Asked to describe her environment and an ideal day, she describes a space full of creative energy and restorative influences, inside of a spacious studio and outside along a lakeshore. Her detailed appreciation for this personal space—food and other sensory input features significantly—reflects her mode of attention in the worlds she photographs.
“When I arrive in a new place, one of the first things I do is walk the streets of the food markets, using all my senses to absorb the local spirit. I discover the touch, scents and tastes of indigenous foods, listen to the vendors’ shouts, laughter and arguments, and observe the lives of everyday working people as they reveal a small part of who they are.”
This is a more-than-reasonable way to interact with the world. Omelianchuk leans decidedly in the humanist direction. “I find humility, kindness and spirituality to be important qualities in life…I am naturally drawn to those who capture the authentic human emotions of everyday people.” Among her photographic influences are Marc Riboud and Henri Cartier-Bresson; she admires Van Gogh for “his spiritual passion for the working class” and Ralph Waldo Emerson for “his writings about solitude and introspection.”
The compelling frankness in her work is leavened by the lightening touch of grace, acceptance and mutual appreciation. Omelianchuk honors her subjects with the gift of respect, and she has discovered that her own life benefits from appreciating daily delights. The end of her ideal day? “I like to sink into the mattress, pull up the duvet, cover my eyes (with a BedtimeBliss eye mask) and reach for my husband’s hand.”
Sounds like someone who appreciates the finer things in life.
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