Emile Ducke: how to tell the world media about Siberia

A master-class by Emile Ducke, a young photodocumentarian from Germany, took place recently at the TSU Faculty of Journalism. Two years ago, Ducke studied at the Faculty of Journalism as an exchange student with TSU’s partner, the Hochschule Hannover. After spending nine months in Siberia, he photographed several stories about remote villages in the Tomsk Region and the Krasnoyarsk Krai that have been published in many world media.

The stories about the life of Old Believers in the Tomsk Region and the Krasnoyarsk Krai and the unique humanitarian project, the health train Saint Luke, were published on the pages of the newspapers The Washington Post, Neue Zuercher Zeitung (Switzerland), La Repubblica (Italy), De Volkskrant (Netherlands), Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Germany), Newsweek magazines in America and Japan, Le Nouvel Observateur, and 6 Mois in France.

The photographs Emile Ducke made during his studies in Tomsk were presented at the international festival of photography PhEST in the Italian city of Monopoli and received two prestigious photo prizes at professional competitions of young photographers in Germany.

- I'm in love with Russia, with Siberia, and I would like to work here for the next few years – with these words Emile Ducke started his master class at the Faculty of Journalism. Participants were students at Tomsk universities and students of the Urban Media School.

The photo-documentary maker from Germany told them about the specifics of creating such complex and unique projects as a photo story about Siberian Old Believers. They are people whose ways of life and worldview have not changed much in the last 300 years. They live apart from the rest of the world and enjoy almost none of the benefits of modern civilization, neither schools nor medical facilities. Their worship lasts for many hours, and the life of the community largely depends on the instructions of the priest.

Filming sites were the village of Kataiga in the Verkhneketsky District of the Tomsk Region and the village of Aydar in the Krasnoyarsk Krai. They can be reached only by boat on the Ket River or by a helicopter that is booked a few weeks in advance.

Alina Pinchuk, a journalism student, organized the trips to the sites and negotiated with villagers for Emile Ducke, who did not speak Russian. During this collaboration, she became a real producer, able to work in an international media team. Now, after graduating from TSU and moving to Moscow, she continues to specialize in this area.

- Behind every photo that was published in the European media, there is a long history of negotiations and compromises. Especially if it was a question of pictures involving religion. We needed to somehow show this important part of people's lives without revealing the rituals themselves, - says Alina Pinchuk.

Participants of the master class were interested in practical skills that allowed a graduate of a provincial university to work at an international level. How to sell photos from the Siberian taiga to the best publications of the world? What are the technical means used in shooting in the remote corners of nature? What is the role of the photo editor and journalist in the selection of the material? Why do residents of European countries, America, and Japan need to know about settlements on the Ket River or about the “train of health” that runs through Siberia? How to avoid patterns and stereotypes while telling Europeans about Russia? Emile Ducke and Alina Pinchuk gave detailed and honest answers to all these questions.

Emile Ducke again spent January in the Tomsk Region and in Novosibirsk. At the very peak of the frost, at a temperature of -45°C, he took pictures of the Epiphany bathing on the Ket River in the village of Kataiga, risking his life on the roads that had become empty from one village to another and surprising the people of Tomsk Region who met him on the way with their huge felt boots. This year he plans to publish a new photo story about Siberia.