March 01, 2011 — “The light in Tucson is incredible,” photographer Juliya Lezhen says. “There was hardly ever a cloudy day, so I never needed to use a flash or other artificial light. Every day I would go out and photograph something.” That “something” for her has been metal, mostly of the rusting, peeling and decaying variety. “I started noticing little details and imperfections on metal, and so I concentrated on photographing these flaws up close and personal. I find the process of deterioration and erosion intriguing,” she notes. “Neglected, discarded and antiqued objects can be found almost anywhere, and because they’re exposed to the elements, they are changing every day. Most of these things no one pays any attention to. They’re just part of our everyday lives. But I discovered, while looking through the camera lens at a tiny portion of peeling paint, a whole new world created by bright colors and beautiful light.”
Indeed, Lezhen’s images emulate, if you will, landscapes, moonscapes and perhaps even a few very strange dreamscapes. One photograph resembles fried eggs dripping from a wall, while another appears to be a screaming robot. Then there are those that resemble a psychedelic trip or two. They are also reminiscent of images seen and imagined via those infamous Rorschach tests—with one glaring difference—Lezhen’s are bright and colorful, although both may be viewed while prone on a couch.
“Different people see different things while looking at my photographs,” Lezhen reiterates, who likens the experience to therapy. “In a way, many photographers are psychologists,” she adds, “because of their ability to look at, analyze and see something different through the camera’s lens.”
Lezhen, who is originally from Ukraine, is mostly a self-taught photographer who has taken a handful of classes in both New Jersey and Arizona. “I got into photography in high school; but I didn’t know much about f-stops or shutter speeds because I used an automatic camera. But I enjoyed printing in the darkroom and liked spending time working on images. I read all the ‘teach yourself photography without taking any classes’ type books, and I also learned everything I could by searching the Internet. I went to college after high school but my focus was psychology. After a year, I got into computers and received a diploma in mainframe programming. As soon as I graduated I said, ‘Never again.’ I didn’t like it at all. It was very boring.”
As dull as programming was for Lezhen, she continued to work with computers and taught herself Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, Flash and other Web-design programs. “That’s how I got into working with images with the computer. Basically, I was using the computer as a ‘digital darkroom,’ continues Lezhen, who was digitally manipulating images on the computer long before it was mainstream. “Then I moved to Tucson, AZ, and took some courses at the community college to expand my photographic knowledge.” Lezhen enrolled in several photo courses including alternative processes—19th Century photographic processes, including: cyanotype, Vandyke, gum dichromate, and Polaroid image transfers.
Lezhen, who recently relocated to Boulder Creek, CA, says she’s inherently fascinated by the abstract world. Besides focusing on metal, she has also turned her camera to rocks. “The stone series is also all macro work,” Lezhen explains. “For the most part, I photograph various kinds of rocks, which I find anywhere from driveways to rock shops. As with the metal, I’m looking into the rocks to find other worlds.”
When Lezhen began the first metal series she was shooting film (Fuji Velvia). She then made the switch to digital and now photographs with a Nikon D7000 with a Nikon 105mm macro lens for most scenarios. She also uses several older Nikon lenses, as she shoots everything manually for greater control of the final product. “I like to put the camera on a tripod and use a lower ISO,” Lezhen adds, who shoots RAW files and processes them with Photoshop CS4 and CS5.
Her most recent series of abstracts includes the human form. Lezhen photographs nudes in a studio setting and uses Photoshop to digitally collage them with textures and various other elements. The final product is printed in multiple ways, one of which involves transfers. This latest series, Lezhen says, all began with a song. “I was looking at images and listening to music, and it just clicked in my head—literally and figuratively.”
Lezhen recently discovered she has synesthesia, a neurologically based condition in which stimulation of one sensory pathway leads to spontaneous sensations in another sensory path. “I’ve always been this way,” she notes, “but only recently was able to put a name to it. I can be listening to something and get a very strong visual. Now, I’m starting to look more closely at the correlation between my work and vision, so to speak. In a sense, I think the collages represent that because they are inspired by music.”
Lezhen plans to continue working on all three series of images while she pursues other projects. “The series are something I can always return to,” she concludes. “I’m working on a few other projects that also deal with abstract surfaces and textures, like glass, wood and plant life. I want to continue photographing the world around me, and wherever that leads me is okay.”
Juliya Lezhen currently works with PerceptVisual.com as a contributing photographer and digital image specialist.
Lorraine A. DarConte is a freelance writer and photographer currently living in Tucson, Arizona.