A Different Lens of Elista: Interview with Chi Ochirov7 min read

 In Culture, Interview, Russia
Lossi 36 sits down with Moscow-based project manager and street photographer Chi Ochirov. Ochirov’s photos were recently on view at Kalmykia’s first contemporary art exhibition, called Mu, at the Amur-Sanan National Library in Elista. This is just one of many conversations with artists from our new exhibit, Kalmyk Contemporary

Nice to meet you, Chi! Tell us about yourself.

I work as a project manager and producer in a creative agency in Moscow. Street Photography and photography, in general, is something that I do on the side. Originally, I’m from Troitskoye, a rural locality in the Kalmyk Republic (11 km from Elista, the capital of the Kalmyk Republic). 

In 2020, I returned to Elista for the first time to stay for a longer time than usual. Street photography has become my way of finding new points of contact with my hometown after years of living in Moscow. I believe the photographs that I made in Elista are my favorites so far. 

You’re originally from Kalmykia but now you’re based in Moscow. Can you talk about the move between your home republic and the capital?

Right after graduation from school in 2014, I moved to Moscow to continue studying at university. I’ve been living in Moscow since then and graduated from RANEPA with a Bachelor’s degree in History and then an MA degree in Media Production and Management (MSSES). I’ve been visiting my hometown occasionally during the new year celebrations and during the summer holidays. But it was mostly for 1-2 weeks. In 2020, when the pandemic hit and everyone started to work remotely, I realized that I wanted to spend some time with my family in my hometown. Luckily, I was able to travel to Elista from Moscow. Right now I’m back in Moscow, and I guess I can say that I’m based in Moscow. So, it has been 7 years since I moved to Moscow.

On January 10, a lot of snow fell, it was a rare opportunity to capture life in Elista against the backdrop of still falling snow. And although it was cold that day, I remember this Elista with warmth in my heart

What do you do as a project manager at a digital creative agency in Moscow? 

As a project manager, I have several brands as clients for whom I manage their social media pages, marketing campaigns. And as a producer, I manage content production. Sometimes I shoot by myself, sometimes I join as a producer. It depends on the scale of the project.

What about street photography is different from your usual work in a creative agency?

Street photography is my personal creative space, I would say. There are quite a lot of shootings at my work, which I enjoy. But it’s still “work stuff”. It’s mostly product photography, or shootings where I need to stick to certain guidelines and rules, because I shoot for a client and not for me. I have this very popular coffee brand as a client, and the amount of guidelines for visual materials is massive. Starting from the camera angle for certain scenarios to color scheme to even how the “coffee top”” should look like. 

In this sense, I like street photography, because it gives me a sense of freedom. There are no specific guidelines or rules and you don’t need to deliver a specific outcome. You just grab your camera and go out and shoot whatever you find inspiring/interesting/beautiful. It is also a playground to experiment with some techniques and tools like prisms. Street photography really holds a special place in my heart. 

I really like to experiment with prism lenses in my street photography. It is especially spectacular looking when you shoot something bright and colorful. Just like one of the most popular showplaces in Elista is The Seven Days Pagoda.  

What camera do you usually use in your street photography? 

All of them were made with Fujifilm X-T3 on 35mm (50 in equivalent exclusively). I sold the camera recently and upgraded to the X-T4, which I like very much.

What prism lenses do you use to create these fantastic effects? 

It is not necessarily a lense, I just use the triangle optic lense, like one of those that you can find in Physics class. You just hold it near the camera lens and the effect appears.

In Elista, there is a tree that looks like a dancing couple. The street light is perfectly placed near, and works as a “stage light”. There are multiple trees in Elista that have very much human “characteristics” to them. This is definitely one of my favorites. 

Why are you interested in trees with human characteristics? Does this tree look like a dancing couple to others, or just to you? 

It’s just the thing that I noticed, while I was doing street photography in Elista. I found quite a lot of trees there, that look very much like other things than trees. Quite a lot of people do also view this tree as a dancing couple, some of them commented on my Instagram page.

There is a sculpture in Elista. Officially it is called Duurin [Echo] and the artist is Nina Evseeva, a Kalmyk sculptor. It is a statue of the dzhangarchi (the performer of the national epos Dzhangar). But people also call it “Dotr-Uga”, which means “No insides”. The opening is because the Dzhangarchi is playing a huura, one of the national musical instruments. The hallow part represents the opening of the huura. It represents the openness and welcoming of the Kalmyk People. 

Why do people call the sculpture Dotr-Uga instead of the official name? 

I guess it’s just the local slang of some sort. It doesn’t have any artist’s statement info near. Maybe at the time when it was created, in 1996, it was poorly showcased in the media and people didn’t quite get what was the official name. But it’s just my theory. But people do know it as Dotr-Uga rather than Echo nowadays. But it doesn’t mean that Kalmyk people disrespect or make fun of that sculpture. In fact, it is one of the most beloved and recognizable sculptures in Elista. It even has become a local cultural phenomenon: there is a belief that if a lady can go through the gap of the sculpture, she soon might have a fortunate marriage. That idea was quite popular before but not so much these days – but some people still remember that and believe in it.

Your work is in conversation with Nina Evseeva’s work, which is really interesting. How else has this sculpture affected your life or influenced you? 

I can say that it is definitely one of the symbols of my hometown for me. When Nina Evseeva was working on that sculpture, she wanted to showcase that Kalmyk people are welcoming and open-hearted to the world by this sculpture. The Dzangarchi is always the symbol of the national epic poem Dzhangar, which conveys the deep cultural code of Kalmyk people. So when I see this sculpture, I see not only my hometown, but the whole culture I belong to. Sometimes, when you look through the gap inside of the Dzhangarchi, you may find various things. 

I wanted to elevate the symbolism by capturing the Pagoda and a passerby from Elista in the heart of Dzangarchi. Because when we look at his face directly, we may see an empty spot, where the heart is supposed to be. But if we change the angle and try to see what he is looking at, we can find that while he sings about the great heroes of Bumba (the main narrative of the epic poem), he looks at The Seven Days Pagoda (another great piece of Kalmyk culture) and of course at Kalmyks themselves. They are in his heart in this sense. 

You can follow Chi Ochirov’s work on Instagram and view Lossi 36’s virtual exhibit, Kalmyk Contemporary

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