"Mom, I'm a Star Now": Yulia Belyakova on the Characteristics of Family Photography

Фотография "Крылатые качели" была выбрана в качестве лучшей работы на конкурсе "Самая красивая страна"-2021 в номинации "Многоликая Россия". Фото: Юлия Белякова

Summer, the smell of cut grass, the hot sun and the creak of the swing. Each of us had our own childhood, rich and unique, but its most classic features – rural nature, carelessness, grandmother's smile – echo with pleasant warmth to many. This is what makes the photograph of Yulia Belyakova – laureate of the contest "The Most Beautiful Country – 2021" in the category "Many Faces of Russia" – eye-catching. The photo becomes a guide to the world of sincere childhood memories and saves them for the little heroine. The author will tell us how this is achieved.

Yulia became interested in photography after the birth of her first daughter and, having gone on her second maternity leave, she decided to master the profession. Online training, courses and master classes, amateur camera, first shoots. She fell in love with the children and family theme right away, but it took time to develop a recognizable author's style.


Юлия Белякова. Фото из личного архива

“Of course, a certain part of the work is magazine and catalog shoots and working with children's modeling agencies,” Yulia shares. “However, I myself prefer the retro direction in photography, with the old Soviet atmosphere. Most likely, my childhood affects me – I had a very happy one. My sister and I would spend all summer in the countryside with my grandmother: we ran barefoot all day long, swam in the pond, dried hay and picked apples from the trees, not being afraid to catch an infection. Now, it seems to me, all this simplicity and carelessness are disappearing – and so I want to preserve these states.”

The grandmother, now a great-grandmother, helped to pass on the recipe for happiness to the new generation. Thus a series of shots was born, one of which became the winner of the competition. However, it turned out to be not so easy to make lively photographs that would touch everyone: older people, as a rule, are not cooperative.

“I took these shots literally from around the corner – I always have a camera with me for such a case,” Yulia recalls. “The beauty of the moment is in its naturalness: here my grandmother, Tatyana Nikonorovna, is swinging her great-granddaughter, my youngest daughter Evelina, on a swing. They are chatting without suspecting anything, and I managed to catch it.”

This is what appealed to the members of the Jury of the competition – the experts who evaluated the works, selected the finalists and winners.

“The shot turned out to be concise, but very meaningful,” says Natalia Shtaeva, editor-in-chief of Discovery magazine. “On the one hand, there are only two people here against the backdrop of a typical Russian rural landscape. On the other hand, each element in the frame matters: a grandmother and a granddaughter — continuity and connection of generations, which in our age of rapid development of technology is so easy to lose. They are looking at each other, and not at gadgets – it gives them pleasure to be together. It doesn’t matter to us in which village or summer cottage the picture was taken – this is the same ‘ordinary’ Russia, the existence of which is often forgotten by residents of the cities. Many of us went on summer holidays to our grandmother, so the photo causes a wave of pleasant emotions, it is very atmospheric. The girl, many years later, will look at the picture and remember this carefree summer day, which she spent with her grandmother."

The future winner stumbled upon the information about the competition by accident – she read the news in the feed of friends. Out of interest, she went to look at photos of rare animals and wild nature from the most remote corners of our country – and accidentally discovered the category "Many Faces of Russia".


Самое главное в работе с детьми, считает автор, — поймать эмоции в кадре. Фото: Юлия Белякова

“I was hooked by the name ‘The most beautiful country’ – it really is!” emphasizes the photographer. “Very beautiful works and worthy applicants, but it was not for me until I saw the category about people. I decided to try it – I submitted literally two or three photos a couple of months before the end of the competition. And one of them became a finalist.”

The theme for the contest entry was not chosen by chance: in her works, Yulia tries to focus on the difference in age – the interaction of young and old people. This, in her opinion, is the whole true essence of family photography. The photo artist has already uploaded her works to the new, VIII contest "The Most Beautiful Country – 2022", but it is impossible to reveal them ahead of time. By the way, the submissions opened on December 27 and will be open until April 10.


Одно из главных назначений фотографии — сохранить воспоминания для будущих поколений. Фото: Юлия Белякова

“Photographing the elderly is very touching for me. Paradoxically, children and the elderly are the most difficult to work with for a photographer,” says Yulia. “The younger the child or the older the adult, the more psychological techniques you will need. Children get tired quickly, it is difficult for them to stay in one place – and then things get challenging. The elderly have a different trait: they consider themselves too old, wrinkled, ugly and do not understand why they should be photographed.”

The older generation, according to the author, has its own idea of ​​photography, which, as a rule, developed in the years of their youth. They believe that youth and beauty should be captured, and they hold on to their photos made many years ago. Yulia's task is to convey the grace of old age and preserve the memories of the time spent together with the grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Such shoots are a kind of social project: Yulia finds models herself, convinces them to be photographed, inspires and works for free.


Самое главное в семейной фотографии, по мнению автора, — преемственность поколений. Фото: Юлия Белякова

“My grandmother doesn’t like to be photographed as well – it took a very long time to persuade her,” the photographer recalls. “But when I printed out and brought her the photos with the swing, she was very pleased. Now she feels better about it, and my daughters have a whole collection of pictures with their beloved great-grandmother, and the youngest tells everyone that she is now a star.”

The submissions for the next, VIII photo contest of the Russian Geographical Society "The Most Beautiful Country" are already open. You can apply for the contest and upload your best shots on the website photo.rgo.ru until April 10.

Yulia Gopius