Ruslan Pelykh was born in a small Ukrainian town into a family of photographers. Throughout his childhood he was passionate about art and spent his days creating surrealistic drawings. While receiving a technical education, he freelanced as an artist and sold popcorn in a movie theater, just so he could watch movies for free. After graduation, he started his artistic career by creating designs and taking photos for a local magazine. Even though he had no specialized education in cinematography, in 2011 Pelykh moved to Moscow to try his hand as a film director, and remarkably he was successful.
Now, he is based in New York City where he captures masterfully executed photographs and stunning videos with a Leica D-Lux 6. He currently shoots advertising and music videos, but he derives the most pleasure from shooting fashion. His videos have been recognized at film festivals and fashion weeks around the world. Here is the inspiring first-person story of his evolution as a photographer and videographer.
Q: How long have you been using the Leica D-Lux 6 and what made you decide to try it?
A: Since 2014, starting just after I moved to New York. I had no chance to transport all my equipment to New York and was looking for something that was relatively low cost, unusual, small and easy to use. Besides, I always wanted to make the process of video shooting very simple without the need for superfluous people and equipment.
Q: What makes this camera particularly suitable for your work? Does it have any technical specifications or features that you find especially useful?
A: I love the concept of dynamics in video shooting and I always work to capture and express movement. This Leica doesn’t limit my movement and it gives me complete control over framing. The video pictures it captures are very flexible in terms of editing and color correction. All the time I’m thinking about capturing something that hasn’t been seen before and looking for new colors and shades. When I started to work with the Leica I was immediately aware of its superiority over all other cameras that I worked with before! Its enhanced video potential extends my working range. Right after shooting my first video I understood that Leica has its own unique charm and signature which can’t be measured in figures and technical specifications. Therefore people often ask about my camera and can’t believe that I work alone without assistants, lights and a huge amount of equipment.
Q: How would you describe your work?
A: I try to capture images and video at a high esthetic level, and with a full range of dynamics and emotions. Sometimes my work is very sexy; sometimes it’s dark, aggressive, girly or cinematic. But whatever form it takes, I think video should always be very beautiful!
Q: What or who inspires your you?
A: New York inspires me — the vanity of the city, the people on the street, the homeless, old buildings and cars, even garbage bags and rats. It’s the real world, and you can see it in my Instagram postings. Every day I go outside and I take photos of New York. That’s the best thing!
Q: Can you describe your cinematic and/or photographic approach?
A: In my creative projects I like to work in various styles. I set the task, take the camera and go to shoot. Sometimes I create a mood board, but I never work from a script because I never have any planned shots. I work on the basis of a general idea, because I always improvise with composition and foreshortening.
I allow my models much more freedom than other directors during the shooting process. I never know in advance which emotions and movements will be most advantageous.
The process of shooting is very simple and not aimed at any particular post-production goals. I’m very attentive to cut, color correction, skin retouching and many other details in my videos. I can devote three days to achieving specific shade to a dress or cleaning shoes in post-production.
Q: You imply that your videos are created with a high degree of spontaneity and that you let your subjects express themselves freely. How do you structure your basic approach to creating a video? For example, “Into The Rain” is essentially a fashion shoot that shows a group of young men in denim shirts doing various active things individually and as a group. Evidently some shooting plan was needed to create the compelling video you achieved, plus a spontaneous element that enhances the energy of the final production. Is this correct, and can you give us your thoughts on this process?
A: Regarding my creative video projects, the process of shooting is similar to the process of drawing a picture or composing a photograph. If an artist has the main idea, he creates the images in his mind, but when he begins to work on it, some details, which were not planned earlier, can arise in the process or sometimes he can reject some his initial ideas during the actual shooting.
In the process of creation the artist goes into an ecstatic state, when his unconscious becomes stronger than his mind, with perhaps some influence of the last plans he had for the shoot. And in this case the person can create something absolutely new, unlike what was planned. I think that the mistakes made by a person, being totally involved in the process of creation, or through some uncontrolled actions he had taken, are much more important than the things which were planned earlier using the rational components of the mind. At the moment of spontaneity and improvisation a person can open the door to the space, unachieved in the normal situation, and in this space a person may be able to find the most original and genius ideas which can be useful for the project at hand.
I always use this principle in my work. I create the image in my mind, give the models the direction for their actions in keeping with the main idea, specify them the basic requirements and then give them full freedom to act. The same process is at work in the cutting stage. When I combine the pieces of the movie together, I am open for the most unusual decisions and can collect the segments of the movie instinctively, taking into account my feelings and emotions.
Maybe you can compare this with the process of musical composition. It’s impossible to create genius music, which will have a great influence on people, by only being rational and using your logical skills. I am a person who values intuition much more than logic, which is always secondary for me.
Q: “Fly Away” is a very beautifully crafted short fashion video about an attractive young woman running and walking on the beach, and also standing and walking on the Brooklyn Bridge with the New York skyline in the background. She doesn’t speak, but the video is greatly enhanced by a poignant minimalist contemporary music track. Where do you access the music for your videos, and what was the concept you were trying to get across with this stunning video?
A: In my video “Fly Away” I used music that I accidentally discovered on a stock music source and I liked it so much that I immediately imagined what could be done to this music. Very often my video projects are inspired by my favorite music (Massive Attack is my favorite) or by music that I heard somewhere on the street, for example. I immediately begin to imagine the movements, faces and scenes in my mind and want to transform the music into the footage. Then I can share my ideas with my wife and ask her what she thinks about it. Very often such discussions can help to define the main idea and begin the preparation for creating the shoot.
“Fly Away” is very special for me. You can find in it my own emotions and feelings resulting from my move to New York. Although it comes across as a simple, beautiful video, this film is actually about a person, who finds herself in a new place, in a new city. It’s about her feelings and her fight with herself. Although this city is extremely big and full of people this person feels as though she is standing on the edge of the earth, alone, in emptiness, and no one knows what is going on, what is behind the ocean. The people who live in this city, are strangers for this person and look like birds, speaking their own languages. It is impossible to reach them. They live their own lives. Maybe they are smiling to this person, but anyway she’ll never belong to them. A person tries to be a part of this flight, to find herself in it … brokenly running, laughing, crying, losing her temper, but she cannot reach it. In the end she has attained satisfaction and realized that everything will be fine! She just needs to stop hunting the flight; she should live in the moment, take a breath, be herself till the end and just keep moving.
Q: Besides your videos, you’ve also submitted a portfolio of still images shot in and around New York City, many taken at twilight or after dark. I assume these images were shot with your Leica D-Lux 6 and at high ISO settings. Is this correct, and what are some of the features or characteristics of this camera you find especially useful both for your still and video work? Can you also say something specific about the charm and signature of the images and videos you’ve shot with this camera or other Leica cameras?
A: All my photos were taken on the D-Lux 6 at sensitivity settings around ISO 200, but often using long exposure times.
As I said earlier, I like that this camera is very compact and gives me a chance to shoot in cases when it’s better not to draw attention to myself, when it’s important to catch the moment quickly and push the button with no need to lift a huge DSLR like a Canon or Nikon. From time to time I even shoot objects and people with the Leica hung on my chest with the exposure preset, ready for use, without bringing the camera up to my eye at all. I just aim it, take some pictures, and then check the results.
Built-in image stabilization is another one good feature in the D-Lux 6, and it can be very useful not only in shooting stills, but in shooting video too. For this reason, while we are filming, I am always on the move and take dynamic stills. It helps me to get the video with the least possible amount of trembling stills with no need to use a Steadicam.
With regard to charm and signature, I like the color palette provided by this camera. I like cold-tone gradations in pictures (blue, green), and that’s why I often take pictures at dusk or at night. I’m obsessed with the hazy weather in New York. I can get wonderful gradations in photos, using the Leica, and it feels like it completes the images the way I want them!
Q: This almost looks like a still frame outtake from your “Fly Away” video. Is this true, and if so, how do you perceive the differences, if any, in your approach to creating still images and videos?
A: Yes, this photo is a still frame taken from “Fly Away.” The only difference between photo and video shooting is that during the process of filming I always move around a lot and I’m always thinking about whether I have enough material for cutting or not, but the choice of perspectives and composition for photos and video still is almost identical.
Q: This image is a dramatic night scene of an avenue in New York in the rain with car lights reflected off the wet pavement, and a Christmas tree and the Chrysler Building in the background. What really make this image unique are the prominent amorphous patches of color that seem to be suspended in mid-air. Are these reflections, and if so, were they visible on the LCD or in the auxiliary electronic viewfinder when you took the shot or were they just a happy accident.
A: Prominent amorphous patches of color are on this image itself formed by droplets of the water on the front surface of the lens, caused by rain. I like rain; it makes everything around seem livelier. I often use such effects when it’s rainy; sometimes the result is really impressive like on this photo. I like experiments with the essential flecks of light, water and smoke in my works.
Q: This is a dynamic black-and-white image of pigeons flying near the main branch of the U.S. Post Office in Manhattan. The pigeons are frozen in mid-flight so you must have used a pretty fast shutter speed. Can you provide the tech data, including focal length and ISO, for this image, and tell us why you decided to output it in black-and-white?
A: The technical specification of the photo: ISO 200, f/1.6 at 24 mm, shutter speed: 1/500 sec.
In the black-and-white version of this photo, the combination of lightness of the birds’ wings and the monumental quality of the Post Office building appear much stronger. My concept was to capture the feeling of a still image taken from an old dramatic movie, where it seems like the moment is perfect but that soon something unpredictable will happen.
Q: Your striking image of a woman posed in front of an iron window gate behind which is a red neon sign, is kind of a classic — sad and amusing at the same time. Was this an actual street shot or is this a model you asked to pose? And in either case what does this picture mean to you personally?
A: In this photo you can see my wife. She is mentally identifying with the aesthetics of the street, extraordinary women’s lives, streetwalkers and their style that has been inspired by Gianni Versace for some time. We walked down the street and she stopped near these iron gates and provocative neon lettering in the window of the closed shop. I’ve had this interesting idea to dip my wife into this atmosphere and create this story for some time. So I took this picture of a “girl without underwear,” standing near a closed underwear shop.
Q: How do you see your work evolving over, say, the next three years? Do you plan to keep shooting videos and still images in the same vein or do you plan to explore other genres such as formal portraiture, architecture, nature, etc.?
A: In the next three years I would like to shoot short motion picture films and video advertisements for big fashion brands. It seems like a good idea to bring more beauty, sensuality, life and aesthetics into it (and not to forget to represent the clothes in the best possible way too). Also, I plan to begin shooting full-length movies. Now, in creating short movies, I am gaining the experience I’m going to draw on in creating big movie projects. I’m going to continue taking photos and concentrate on street portraits of people in New York and in other big cities, and on documenting their lives, which also can be very useful in my work on big projects. And, of course, I want to try to work with the latest Leica cameras such as the M and compare their special aspects in photo and video shooting.
Thank you for your time, Ruslan!
– Leica Internet Team