Pho­to: Daria Boron­i­na / Image pro­vid­ed by the inter­locu­tor

Denis Yuri­son is from Bar­naul. In 2015, he moved to Sval­bard, or Sval­bard as the locals call it. This is a polar arch­i­pel­ago in the Arc­tic Ocean, which belongs to Nor­way, but Rus­sia has the right to mine coal in the arch­i­pel­ago (due to the spe­cial sta­tus of the land), is try­ing to devel­op tourism there, and it owns two res­i­den­tial vil­lages — Bar­ents­burg and Pyra­mi­den.

* Pyra­mid — found­ed in 1910, a min­ing vil­lage in the west of Spits­ber­gen, from 1998 to 2007 unin­hab­it­ed. Now up to 10 peo­ple work there in win­ter and up to 50 in sum­mer. Coal has not been mined in Pyra­mid for 24 years, but the Ark­tiku­gol com­pa­ny is try­ing to devel­op tourism: it opened a hotel, a restau­rant, tourist hous­es, repaired util­i­ty net­works, and agreed with the gov­er­nor of Sval­bard to restore and pre­serve build­ings togeth­er. The vil­lage got its name because of the shape of the moun­tain at the foot of which it is locat­ed.

At the time of the move, Denis was already fond of pho­tog­ra­phy, and from one trip to his home­land he brought with him a sim­ple Canon 550D and began to active­ly shoot. Since 2016, he switched to the iPhone and took up mobile pho­tog­ra­phy, and already in 2018, Apple noticed Denis and asked for per­mis­sion to pub­lish his pic­tures on his Insta­gram account. In 2020, Apple man­agers again turned to Denis to buy his pho­tos from the iPhone for their adver­tis­ing.

We spoke with Denis and found out how to go to the Arc­tic and get Apple inter­est­ed in what equip­ment is need­ed to shoot north­ern land­scapes and why chem­i­cal insoles are nec­es­sary if you are a pho­tog­ra­ph­er who shoots in ‑20 ° C.

About migration

Moun­tains in Advent­dalen (shot with Olym­pus) and an ice cave near Longyear­byen (shot with iPhone XS). Pho­to: Denis Yuri­son / insta­gram: astro­mad­man

— How did you end up in Sval­bard?

I was a stu­dent at a lin­guis­tic insti­tute, I planned to become an Eng­lish teacher, but I was drawn to trav­el. The prospect of “work — insti­tute — fam­i­ly” did not suit me. First I went to Kalin­ingrad, and then I left the uni­ver­si­ty and went to vis­it friends in Israel. Three months lat­er, while still there, I start­ed look­ing for any kind of trav­el-relat­ed job. Then I found two options: either a small com­pa­ny in Africa, or a min­er’s Ark­tiku­gol in Sval­bard.

I do not like heat, so the option in Africa imme­di­ate­ly dis­ap­peared. Plus, then I was fond of the cul­ture of Ire­land, Scan­di­navia. Nat­u­ral­ly, I chose the Arc­tic. I wrote them at ran­dom very naive­ly that “I love Scan­di­na­vian cul­ture and I know Eng­lish, please take me”, and got on the direc­tor of the Gru­mant Arc­tic Tourism Cen­ter Tim­o­fey Rogozhin. Only after two months of nego­ti­a­tions I was hired by this com­pa­ny as a bar­tender. And since 2016, I became a guide, led groups that came to Sval­bard on a ship. Then I real­ized that I want­ed to move on, and then the era of mov­ing to the Nor­we­gian city of Longyear­byen (the admin­is­tra­tive cen­ter of Sval­bard — ed. note) began. I live here now, I work as a sea guide for the Nor­we­gian com­pa­ny Arc­tic Explor­er.

About photographic equipment

What equip­ment do you shoot with now?

If about the phone, then on the iPhone XS. And the cam­era is an Olym­pus OM‑D E‑M1 Mark II. My lens­es are M.Zuiko Dig­i­tal ED: 40–150mm f/2.8 PRO tele­pho­to and 17mm f/1.8 wide. There is also a tele­con­vert­er that dou­bles the focal length. This is the per­fect build. I always use either tele­pho­to or widescreen. There is noth­ing else to do in the Arc­tic.

Why Olym­pus?

I talked to a lot of guys who shoot up north and they have Olym­pus. It is reli­able, water­proof, dust­proof. Works well in cold weath­er. I remem­ber we went on snow­mo­biles from city to city. And at ‑30 °C the cam­era was “alive”. My fin­gers froze in three min­utes, and it worked per­fect­ly.

— Do you use addi­tion­al equip­ment?

For a while I used a tri­pod for a mobile phone when shoot­ing at night. Olym­pus can do with­out it. Bet­ter with him, of course, but I’m not very com­fort­able. After the iPhone, effi­cien­cy is impor­tant to me.

About mobile photography

Sval­bard deer (cap­tured with Olym­pus) and arc­tic cot­ton (cap­tured with iPhone XS). Pho­to: Denis Yuri­son / insta­gram: astro­mad­man

— Do you shoot while you work or are these unre­lat­ed process­es?

Basi­cal­ly a relat­ed process. I pre­fer to work in the sum­mer when we have an end­less flow of peo­ple, so there is sim­ply no time left for a sep­a­rate shoot.

We can stop by the glac­i­er, see a bear. Peo­ple already under­stand that there is a bear. What else can I tell them? That’s why I’m film­ing.

In 2016, I start­ed tak­ing pho­tos with my iPhone. With my work — the best option: I can talk a lit­tle with peo­ple, shoot and con­tin­ue on.

I still shoot with my phone, but the most active phase was from 2016 to 2018. After that, I began to under­stand that I need­ed to switch to some­thing more pro­fes­sion­al, and in 2019 I bought a cam­era.

- Do you take pic­tures with a stan­dard iPhone cam­era or shoot through addi­tion­al appli­ca­tions, equip­ment?

I used to use apps a lot, but it’s like auto mode on a cam­era. Not inter­est­ed. When you shoot your­self, you under­stand how you want to build a frame, what to change.

I once used cell phone lens­es. I had a shirik, a por­trait lens, but I quick­ly got bored with it. While you put the lens, time is wast­ed.

- How can a per­son shoot cool on a mobile phone?

At least clean the cam­era first. And then many peo­ple take pic­tures and are sur­prised that it turned out bad­ly, but the fact is that the cam­era was sim­ply not wiped.

The iPhone only has man­u­al focus and bright­ness set­tings. But this is the tip of the ice­berg. There are tons of appli­ca­tions that can turn the iPhone into a full-fledged tool. The same Pro­Cam. If you want to study the tech­ni­cal side of the pho­to, install it and go ahead.

With the help of appli­ca­tions, you can take pho­tos even at night. I shot stars on the iPhone 7 Plus. The only thing you need is a tri­pod.

It’s impos­si­ble to shoot a cool image on an iPhone right away. Some­thing about the col­ors will be wrong, plus there is a basic pro­cess­ing that some­times gets in the way. So install at least Light­room to cor­rect the col­ors.

It seems to me that many sim­ply do not have the patience to under­stand mobile pho­tog­ra­phy. But it does­n’t work. You need to get into it, hone the skill.

— Share life hacks for mobile pho­tog­ra­phy?

I shot through binoc­u­lars. The main thing is not to shake your hands. Many tourists saw this show, laughed, and then asked to do the same for them. You can use this trick if the binoc­u­lars are good. True, it stands like a lens.

Many peo­ple ask how to shoot so that the phone does not “die” in such a cold. I just keep him close to me. I take it out of my jack­et, take it off, put it away. I need to build a frame in my head in advance so that it doesn’t hap­pen that I aim ten times. And Chi­nese tourists taught me how to use chem­i­cal insoles for my feet. They attach them to the back of the phone. So the bat­tery is heat­ed, and the mobile phone is not dis­charged

About post-processing

Longyear­byen in March (shot with Olym­pus) and a schooner in the Sassen­fjord (shot with iPhone XS). Pho­to: Denis Yuri­son / insta­gram: astro­mad­man

What does post-pro­cess­ing mean in your work?

Post-pro­cess­ing for me is a kind of game where you can change pho­to ele­ments, col­ors. For me, man­u­al pro­cess­ing is a pri­or­i­ty. I even process pic­tures from the cam­era on the phone. On it, the same Light­room does not spoil the qual­i­ty.

I have nev­er been a doc­u­men­tary pho­tog­ra­ph­er and posi­tion myself as a fine art pho­tog­ra­ph­er. In Eng­lish there is a con­cept of fine art. In this direc­tion there is no bind­ing to nat­u­ral­ness. Here I am more about the atmos­phere. By pro­cess­ing I express myself and my opin­ion. For exam­ple, at the time of shoot­ing it could be a sun­ny day, but in the end the pho­to will have a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent mood.

Post-pro­cess­ing also helps to high­light objects. I under­stand that if I shoot a polar fox in the vil­lage of Pyra­mi­den, then there will be indus­tri­al ruins in the back of the frame. Who cares to watch this? Nat­u­ral­ly, I remove them, make a light back­ground so that the focus is on the fox.

I per­ceive a pho­to as a pic­ture that you com­plete with pro­cess­ing, and then it becomes a fin­ished work of art.

What do you pay more atten­tion to in post-pro­cess­ing?

I work with light. Most of my pho­tos are in low key, so I do a lot of dark­en­ing, high­light­ing the shad­ows. And col­or, of course. I don’t like, for exam­ple, the blue sky, so I usu­al­ly remove it. I love fog. When you shoot it on a mobile phone, there is noise. There­fore, I often add it addi­tion­al­ly.

About cooperation with Apple

— How is the inter­ac­tion with Apple going?

Their adver­tis­ers write to inter­est­ing peo­ple. The man­ag­er con­tacts you, you sign a non-dis­clo­sure agree­ment, and then nego­ti­a­tions begin. Then you fill out the doc­u­ments, if you agree to their terms, go through the paper­work. They also ask for the orig­i­nal of the pho­to to ver­i­fy the author­ship.

Apple is now con­tact­ing me for the third time. Want­ed to get a pho­to license. This means that the com­pa­ny can use them in any adver­tis­ing, posters, ban­ners. My pic­tures can hang in any one city, and I won’t even know about it.

Apple pays a cer­tain amount for each pho­to. Nat­u­ral­ly, this is much high­er than the stock price. The offer is very gen­er­ous, but I can­not dis­close the amount. I was sur­prised that they do this in prin­ci­ple, that they sup­port mobile pho­tog­ra­phy and are will­ing to pay if they like the pic­tures.

Many began to ask how I got there, to whom I wrote, with whom I was con­nect­ed. And I don’t know what I did. It’s as ear­ly as pos­si­ble. The com­pa­ny choos­es what it is inter­est­ed in and address­es you direct­ly.

The first time they found me on Insta­gram and asked me to email them. I thought it was spam for a long time. I did not believe that they wrote to me from Apple

Were there any dif­fi­cul­ties in the nego­ti­a­tions?

No, it’s sim­ple. Unless you need patience when it comes to licens­es. The whole process takes about a month. Only after that I received the mon­ey. Since I am not an Amer­i­can cit­i­zen, there are forms that must be filled out in order to appear in their sys­tem. They can’t just hand over the mon­ey. It is also dif­fi­cult for those who do not speak Eng­lish.

In the end, one morn­ing they called me: I wake up from a call, some per­son intro­duces him­self and says that he is from New York. Then it turned out that they had to con­firm the details and my iden­ti­ty, that I am who I say I am.

About style, inspiration and principles in photography

Pyra­mid vil­lage (shot with Canon 550D) and night in Longyear­byen (shot with iPhone XS). Pho­to: Denis Yuri­son / insta­gram: astro­mad­man

— Who and what are you inspired by?

For a long time I was inspired by north­ern pho­tog­ra­phers. Ben­jamin Hard­man (@benjaminhardman) is a pio­neer of north­ern pho­tog­ra­phy. John Bozi­nov (@johnbozinov) is a polar pho­tog­ra­ph­er who prin­ci­pal­ly shoots on the iPhone.

But I real­ized that I did not want to become the sec­ond Hard­man. Many north­ern pho­tog­ra­phers copy his style. And this is a sec­ondary art. Last year I decid­ed that I need­ed to express some­thing of my own. The cin­e­mat­ic frame began to cap­ture me. Col­ors, com­po­si­tion.

I love old hor­ror films, so I start­ed to bring dark tones into my work. I mix my pas­sion for hor­ror with the his­to­ry of the con­quest of the Arc­tic. It is full of gloomy, many peo­ple died. Now the Arc­tic has changed. Any piece of it is avail­able with­out risk to life. And I remem­ber those books and films about Arc­tic explor­ers. About how they con­quered this place with their work and strength.

I’m try­ing to show the Arc­tic is not sun­ny, but dark and gloomy. As if a young sailor from the past came to con­quer the Arc­tic and he was ter­ri­bly scared, because no one knows what is hap­pen­ing here. Try­ing to con­vey this ten­sion

I am also attract­ed by the aes­thet­ics of film pho­tog­ra­phy, so I start adding noise, scratch­es. It seems to bring us back to the old pho­tographs of the era of the con­quest of the Arc­tic.

I have already found my style, but any begin­ner starts by copy­ing favorite pho­tog­ra­phers and what he once saw. Even uncon­scious­ly. I review my old works and under­stand that these are things that I came across a long time ago. For exam­ple, I used to hang out on Tum­blr. And many of my pho­tos matched what I saw there many years ago.

You should­n’t be afraid of this. As well as exper­i­ments. For a long time I was afraid that if I start­ed tak­ing pho­tos in a low key and adding a film effect, no one would like it. But there will always be an audi­ence that will be yours.

A lot also depends on vis­i­bil­i­ty. It is nec­es­sary not to get stuck in your infor­ma­tion field: watch films, illus­tra­tions, works of oth­er pho­tog­ra­phers.

For begin­ners, it is impor­tant to devel­op the skill of pho­tog­ra­phy and keep improv­ing it. At the begin­ning of the jour­ney, you should not chase orig­i­nal­i­ty: look and study oth­ers, and style will def­i­nite­ly come.

Text: Eliz­a­beth Lentil