Anna Devie talks with avia photographer Alexander Shamov on the aesthetics of flying


During the Internationl Aviation & Space Salon MAKS 2011, that took place near Moscow I met an avia photographer, Alexander Shamov. For two consecutive sunny days we were watching and taking photos of the air show. The new models of the aircraft were flying in the air and Shamov often commented on the technical characteristics of the aeroplanes and the manoeuvres they were doing. He also gave very useful advice on how to frame a photograph. An intelligent and polite man, he agreed to answer my questions.

Alexander Viktorovich Shamov has taken photos since a very young age. After recieving a University degree in engineering he began using photography as way of furthering his profession but eventually started to treat his photographs as works of art. His 2010 exhibition “The artists of the sky” took place in Lvov,Ukraine.


What place does photography take in your life?

I have taken photos since I was child, and then throughout school and college. Photography, however, was always secondary to my main job. It was just an addition to my technical engineering skills, partly as an opportunity to abstract from my job. Since 1997 I have been taking photographs of air shows, although I  only concentrated on certain elements, needed for work, such as new technologies, take offs and landings. It was only recently that I started taking artistic photos of the shows. In 2003 I took a picture of a group of airplanes, with a soloist parting upwards. I saw that not only was it possible to take photos of the aircrafts, but to take artistic pictures, that could be aesthetically interesting to other people, even those with no interest in aviation. I printed it on a large format, brought it to a photo club, and showed it to well-known photo-artists from Lvov: Tinaluk Mikola Fedorovich, Dubas Vladimir Alekseevich and Pipluk Vasiliy Vasileevich. They liked my photo and encouraged me to develop this concept, which they thought was interesting, and unexplored. So then I started to concentrate on avia photography.

Now I have different techniques. For instance, I take photos from the ground, as if I am flying next to the airplanes, and the viewer feels like he is above the airplanes, by their side or behind them. My father was a military engineer, and I was brought up on a number of different aerodromes. The fact that I spent my whole life in aviation, since my childhood, helps my photography. For me, the aircrafts are like living creatures. They are a continuation of the human being that controls them.


Is it easy for you to predict the reaction of the public, who might not have an in-depth knowledge of aviation?

People get the most unpredictable associations. Generally, we are not used to seeing such a colourful sky, apart from fireworks, sunsets, sunrises and thunderstorms. But here, unexpectedly, the sky depicted is absolutely incredible. Most people have never seen anything like that, they cannot understand what it is, and this is when their imagination starts to work. One sees a lady’s hat with feathers, the other a stave with chords.

At some point, I started to see the aeroplanes differently as they were doing difficult manoeuvres in the air. They were associated in my mind with brushes, painting in the sky. But their paintings are transient. The wind blows and the images disappear. Photography for me is a tool to save these images and share them with others. This idea lead me to the exhibition “The artists of the sky”, which showed a period of works spanning 13 years.


In your opinion, how important is the creative part of the photograph, since the quality of a photograph is so dependent on the equipment?

Today, I am almost certain, that the creative part of the photograph is not depend on the equipment. This could be compared to an artist: he does not need special paint or brushes, he can make a great work of art just using a stick, by drawing on sand. Likewise with photography: when you reached a certain level of professionalism, when you have mastered the compositional devices, the use of colours, the effects of light, you come to a state where you do not need a complex and expensive camera.


Did you study photography anywhere?  

No, only self-study. Thanks to my profession, I got an opportunity to travel to different countries, visit many museums, art galleries and exhibitions. This was for me a sort of study, apart from reading photography and drawing textbooks. And of course, taking photos is a good school itself.


After trying different cameras, which one can you recommend for avia photography?

My very first camera was FED-2. I got it as a gift, when I was 10 years old. Since then a lot of time has passed. In the last ten years I have tried many types of equipment. For some time, I used Nikon then a variety of Canon models. I soon realized, that the modern technologies allow you to do anything you want on your camera, yet, you have to master it, like a music instrument. You cannot take a new camera, even the very good one, and go straight to the air show to take photos. In any case, having been through all the complex modern equipment, I chose Canon.


What advice would you give to an amateur avia photgrapher?

One thing can be said: take photos, make mistakes and don’t be afraid of that. You cannot learn from other people’s mistakes, I am saying this as an engineer.


Anna Devie

Image credit – Acutance