We’ve noticed a few changes in the surf industry over the years and amongst it is the strong presence of women’s surf photographers. Surf photography isn’t an easy career path when you think about the different challenges you may encounter at sea and the magic touch people expect you to bring, but the fact of being a woman in the middle of the lineup makes it even harder. For Sasha Golyanova, surfing was an unexpected change of plans and offered her a whole new life far away from home. Originally from Sochi, Russia, Sasha got hooked on snowboarding during her last year at home and decided to ignore logical advice to hop on a place, direction Bali. Not necessarily rational, but this decision was the turning point for Sasha - the opportunity to accomplish what she’s really capable of.
This vibrant young woman has now been living in Indonesia for about two years and a half, surfing, shooting, working in collaboration with local brands and enjoying what the present has to offer. Offering us a more artistic approach to surf photography than what we’re used to, we’re obsessed with her fresh and unseen way of capturing the sport and we’re curious about her life. We had the chance to talk with her before a one-week trip to Thailand and all we can say is that we’re excited to see what Sasha can bring to the surf industry while keeping her feminine essence and endless charm.
Bali doesn’t capture the soul of everyone, but when it does, it means you need to stay. What are you doing as a job in Bali - are you able to sell some of your photographs?
It’s not easy to make a living with only surf photography, so I do different kinds of photography and I work with small brands that are connected to the beach lifestyle. I also write concepts for photo shoots and do graphic design.
It must help to work with various things all at once it’s probably the best thing to do when you want to go into surf photography!
Yes, I mostly show my surf photos, but since March, I started doing more water connected photography. My last gig was with EcoFin and it was really interesting. Their idea of the shoot was to show fin, but also how dirty the ocean can be because there is a huge environmental problem in Indonesia and they are trying to change that by collecting garbages and making fin from it.
Oh wow, that’s quite impressive! I am sure it is really nice to work with a brand like that.
How did you get involved in surfing, though? From being a policeman back in Russia to now shoot surfing in Bali, this is two opposite things!
Long story short, it’s almost like I started a new life. I used to work for the government, then became a police officer for three years in the anti-drugs police department. Photography was my hobby for the longest time because my dad loves it and my grandfather as well, so I was using his film cameras to shoot my friends, but nothing extraordinary. Even though I wasn’t surfing, I’ve always loved swimming as I did it in school for about 9 years. In 2014, the Olympics were held in Sochi and I worked there for a while. That’s when I tried snowboarding and didn’t stop until the snow was actually melting! [Laughs] I knew at the time that you could surf in Sochi, that some guys would go out when there were big storms during winter time, but I never thought of trying it. The idea of surfing came to me really fast and as soon as I was done with my contract, I thought of going to Morocco, but a friend of mine invited me to go to Bali with him. So, on May 9th 2014, I left Russia for Bali and since then, I never went back.
It seems quite radical two years and a half far away from home. Don’t you want to go back eventually?
There’s nothing holding me there and I don’t feel the need to go back. I cannot say that I don't want to, but I feel like it’s not the time right now. When I left Russia, I left everything behind and became a different person. My life is where the waves are, I need to be near the ocean without a doubt.
If there’s nothing holding you back there, I admit you don’t need to go! You then went to Bali without any experiences in the surfing world at all - how did you start shooting surfing? This is a unusual path for a beginner!
Somehow the idea came to me when I was in Russia. I thought about buying a waterproof case for my camera and my phone, so I did. When I first arrived in Bali, I started to take photos and learn how to surf - it wasn’t too scary for me as I knew how to swim properly. When I understood that my cell phone was alright with the case, I took my camera out. My first real gig as a photographer was in a surf camp for girls in Lombok and Sumbawa, and during that camp, my water housing broke. I saved my camera, but it meant one thing - I needed a proper water housing! I bought it 4-5 months later. Most photographers in Bali use Liquid Eye as it is produced here, but I decided to buy Aquatech instead. A little more expensive, but that way I am sure it is the best.
I totally understand that, I would do the same! What are your inspirations behind your photos? Do you have any specific ideas while shooting?
I will not lie that when I started, I was only going with the flow. But I eventually improved my surfing, so I understood the moments and what's cool to capture. A lot of my friends gave me a lot of insight on what’s good and what’s not, which really helped me. For now, I can say that my main inspiration is the personality of the surfer. Some photographers prefer to show the beauty of nature and the ocean, but for me, I’m more interested in who’s riding the board. I met so many cool dudes, all moving differently with different expressions.
That’s pretty cool to keep your main focus on the person instead of the scenery! What’s your typical day-to-day in Bali?
I have two typical days, but the most common is when I wake up at 5 or 6 o’clock because I have to shoot around 6:30-7:00. I wake up, pack my bags, prepare everything and then go shoot. It’s usually not more than 4 hours. Then, it’s breakfast time with the people I shoot with. It's my favorite breakfast ever because you feel so tired and you get fresh coconut water - best thing!! I go back home, sometimes go back to sleep, or otherwise I would start uploading the photos and start editing right away. Well, select the ones I like. I also try to get the opinion of my surfer friends because it's good to have their advice. I was actually a bit worried when I first started because a lot of people shoot here and I am not phenomenal or anything, but I realized that we're all different and I think our lifestyle affect our style. It made me really confident!
It is hard not to compare yourself with other people, especially when you are working in such a tight industry, but it’s good to remind yourself that you can have your own style and voice through your photographs, which would make you stand out.
Yes, I would never do the same as someone else. I follow hundred surf photographers on Instagram and I am always happy to see their progress. I don’t work for results anymore, I work for the process. When I understood that, I felt released from all the stress I had. I was raised up by parents, who made me think, that results are necessary and should be excellent, but I got to a point where I know that you cannot be the best, at least, not all the time.
This year was fulfilled with many collaborations and people talking about your work - it seems like it was a pretty good one for you, isn't?
Yes, it was pretty productive, but the coolest thing is that I started to collaborate with Deus Ex Machina. They are all my friends and that’s why it’s so easy for me to work with them. I am always sticking around so my collaboration with them is kind of a “family life”. I am a freelance contributor and will be happy to continue collaboration in that way. It’s also really interesting because last May I was collaborating with Diogo D'Orey shooting Rip Curl young athlete, Miguel Blanco, who surf for Rip Curl Europe. At Deus, they’re all loggers and super stylish, but with Rip Curl, they are all riding short boards with a completely different style. It was cool to shoot Miguel in the water and I came out with different photos from his main photographer. It's not the same kind of photography at all, Diogo is out there shooting in the tube without any fears. For me, I am only trying to focus on the angles and the movements. They are in the big games - I am not chasing after that. I sent photos to surf magazines in Bali, but they never really publish "new blood" photos, you need to come up with something really worth. But I’m still trying anyway!
I can see it being a challenge to be a woman in a man’s universe, but I am sure that if you keep trying and shooting, you will eventually end up in their magazines! What’s next coming up for you?
I really want to continue my collaboration with EcoFins because environmental problem always touches me. Also, some of the local surf brands want to work with me and it’s honorable that they choose me! I’m still thinking about sending emails to bigger brands like Rip Curl, Electric, Billabong. I am also hoping to shoot a pro surfer eventually. I always send messages online and some of them look quite curious about the idea of being shot by a girl! It’s hard to know if they take me seriously or if they say yes only because I am a woman. But the important thing for me is to keep my feminine essence while doing what I want to do. Every shoot is more interesting and challenging in that way.
Oh, I’m also working on an art project that I would like to release as an exhibition. I am inspired by collage artists. I want to combine milky ways and universe with surfing pictures. I didn’t start it yet, I am just collecting materials for now, but I have a really nice artist friend that I would like to collaborate with to create this project.