For the latest edition of Conversations, we had the pleasure of sitting down with the award-winning artist, photographer, and prolific storyteller, Vladimir Antaki.
Vladimir was born in Saudi Arabia but quickly became a Paris transplant where he studied art history and film at La Sorbonne. He later relocated again. This time to Montréal where he got his Bachelor of Fine Arts from UQÀM. Vlad specializes in intimate portraits and has an uncanny ability to show his subjects’ to their core.
Vlad showcases his unique talent for capturing the human soul in his new book The Guardians. The Guardians is a series of photographs Vlad took of shopkeepers (or as he refers to them “Guardians”) while travelling across the Middle East, Europe, and America. Vlad’s desire with this series was to document and pay tribute to the people we encounter every day without really noticing.
Here are the three key lessons the fiery Vladimir Antaki taught us at our most recent fireside chat (sans the fire).
1. We Don't Need No Education
As Pink Floyd colloquially said, you don't necessarily need a formal education to excel in your field. Even though Vlad has achieved some level of formal education, he firmly believes that not everyone needs school to succeed. In fact, when he was asked how he first got into photography, he responded, “I purchased a camera then went to the street.”
Vlad was 23 at the time he purchased his first film camera proving you don't have to be a prodigy to be successful. He had two weeks left in Paris before leaving for Montreal and decided on a whim to start shooting the streets of the city he called home. On his first trip to the photo shop, the shopkeeper pointed out that there was nothing on the film. Vlad didn’t understand all the technicalities of photography at the time - he just framed the photo and clicked. Don't let initial failures get you down!
The shopkeeper kindly explained some basics of picture taking, like what speed to shoot at, and that was all Vlad needed to get going! Within two weeks, he was off to Montreal where he continued to do street photography and learned to process film. This positive interaction with a shopkeeper provided a bit of foreshadowing to what would come later in his career.
2. Know The Value Of Your Work
After Vlad’s time in Montreal, he eventually ended up in Toronto. Even though he fell in love with the city, unfortunately, there wasn't much for him in terms of work. Vlad’s agents in Toronto said that his work “wasn’t commercial enough.” Instead of focusing on the many pros of working with such a unique point of view, they only paid attention to the cons.
Vlad knew he was talented and that his agents in Toronto were wrong. Vlad is an “out of the box” thinker, and the people around him in Toronto were too “in the box.” They were thinking just like everyone else, which is why Vlad was keen on a change of scenery.
He went on to visit Lebanon, then landed back in his hometown, Paris. Vlad hustled like crazy while he was in Paris, and within six months he proved all his doubters wrong when he was asked to shoot a massive campaign for iZettle, a Swedish financial technology company. Not commercial enough? Yeah, right!
3. Respect Your Subjects
Last but certainly not least, Vlad expressed the importance of respecting those you work with. For him, this meant respecting the shopkeepers he photographed for his book, The Guardians. Vlad ended up shooting 200 shopkeepers from various countries for the book, many of whom were kind enough to tell him their life stories.
A few subjects weren’t as open. Instead of pressing them further, Vlad respected that he was in their space and they didn’t owe him anything. His advice for fellow photographers is to, “Stay humble and always say thank you.”
That being said, Vlad’s approach evidently works because the vast majority of shopkeepers were willing to have their photographs taken and speak with him despite having said no to others in the past. He explained, “they see it as a tribute of sorts.”
The Guardians did truly end up being a tribute to those shopkeepers. It is a reflection of a simpler, older moment that will forever be frozen in time. The shopkeepers now have a lasting legacy.
Conversations is a special event where we invite prominent thought-leaders to share their stories, successes, and failures and answer questions from the Project Spaces community. If you’d like to experience Conversations or any of our other weekly events, check out our Community Membership or book a tour today.
Sending out a huge thank you to Vladimir Antaki for taking the time to share his worldly views with us!