New at laif: Aliona Kardash

Portrait einer Frau mit verschränkten Armen
We are pleased to introduce Aliona Kardash as a new laif photographer. Aliona studied journalism and documentary photography in Tomsk (Siberia). She has been a master's student at the Dortmund University of Applied Sciences and Arts since 2019 and also works as a freelance photojournalist for various national and international media.

You can also find out more about Aliona on Instagram from Monday, June 10, 2024. She will take over the laif account for a week and report on her work.


laif at Instagram


Katja Kemnitz conducted an interview with her:

Eine Frau an einem Gartentor

Last year you presented your project »At home it smells of smoke« at the laif annual meeting 2023 and mentioned that it wasn't easy for you to talk about it. Was that because it's such a personal project?

Yes, that’s one of the reasons. In the project, I talk about very private things and my own worries. It’s about the war in Ukraine and the associated opinions and conflicts within society, but also within my family, who live in Russia.

This conflict is still ongoing and there are many parties involved. It is extremely important to me that all these opinions and people are taken seriously and that I think about each side. That’s another reason why I was unsure and wondered how the images would be received by different audiences. Of course, my colleagues from DOCKS Collective and stern were already familiar with the series. But the presentation at laif was like a test for me. The big question was how the series would be received.


How did your colleagues react to the photos?

The work was extremely well received by my colleagues! I honestly didn’t expect it to this extent and was completely overwhelmed by the reactions. Many came up to me after the lecture and said how the work had touched them and made them think. For me, that was also a sign that I could tell something important with my story.

Eine Gruppe Menschen sitzt beisammen
Putin im Fernseher in einer Wohnung

Now, a year later, you can certainly better assess how the series is generally received. What perspectives on the series do you know?

I am most familiar with the side of Russians who now live in Germany. That is also my own perspective. It took me a while to accept this perspective. I am no longer a resident of Tomsk. My perspective on my homeland has changed a lot.

That’s why it was very important for me to take a lot of time for my trips to Russia and the pictures and conversations on site. People don’t feel understood by the people who have emigrated and even less by the people in Germany. This makes it all the more important for me to talk to them and show them my pictures. People who are far away from the front line and the actual conflict have a tendency to block things out. People have to get on with their own lives somehow. When I talk to people in Russia about all these things, about my worries and questions about my homeland, it brings a lot of reflection that is easily forgotten in everyday life, but should definitely not be forgotten.

Eine Frau mit Megaphone läuft vor einem Demostrationszug mit Ukraineflagge
Frau in einem Demozug mit Ukraineflagge und Schild

In the series, we see your family and the places where you grew up. I imagine such a personal connection is very difficult. How do you deal with the lack of distance?

This is not the first time that I have dealt with my own family and origins in a photo series. My first big project was about my grandmother and how she moved from a small village to the city at the ripe old age of 87. I accompanied her through this big change and documented everything with my camera.

However, it wasn’t simply a case of me talking about my grandma, but rather telling a bigger story using my grandma as an example. How does a person cope with change at such an advanced age? How does it feel? How connected are we to the places where we have lived? My grandma was not only my grandma, but also a protagonist. I was in different roles at the same time: Granddaughter and photographer. This closeness and distance is an exciting contrast. It’s not easy, but it’s very interesting and for me as an artist it may even have become my way of looking at things in depth.


There is a very nice series of yours about pubs in Germany. I would assume you lacked a strong personal connection here, but it's still beautifully photographed and up close.

This pub story is a good example. It was a very different kind of work and it took me a lot of research. I’ve only lived in Germany for five years and this story was a way for me to get to know the country better. In return, I became part of a new community every evening. Many pubs are small and regulars form a closed society. I was always the stranger at first. I found that a very nice challenge, because I wanted my pictures to look as if I wasn’t there. Or rather, as if I wasn’t a stranger, but also a local.

Gruppe Menschen sitzt in einer Kneipe
Mann raucht in einer Kneipe

I generally have the feeling with your pictures that they are like still photos, the protagonists are in their places as if they were a matter of course. How do you do that?

Thank you. [laughs] In the pubs, it helped to drink a beer yourself first and have a toast with someone. The rest is a lot of curiosity and taking your time; treating everyone with respect and being interested.


The series has already won the »Otto Steinert-Preis. DGPh-Förderpreis für Fotografie 2024«. And it's also currently nominated for the stern award, right?

Yes, that’s the one. I also made it for stern.

Bauarbeiter vor einer Fußballwerbewand
Jugendliche stecken Blumen in einen Zugwagon

You generally have a great connection to stern. In 2022, you received a one-year scholarship at the magazine. How important was that for you and what did you learn?

The scholarship was extremely important. I had already studied photojournalism in Tomsk, but because I only came to Germany in 2019, I had to start a lot of things from scratch. I had to make new contacts, get to know new people and establish myself as a photographer. At stern, I had lots of opportunities to work on different stories with great journalists and colleagues from the photo department. In addition to the pub story, I was in Auschwitz, on cruises and in Qatar, among other places. I was also allowed to try my hand at projects in which I had little expertise and for which I would otherwise not be booked. For example, I portrayed the chairmen of RWE. You could never do as many things as I did this year as a freelancer.



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