Someone in Your Corner by 38 year-old Ukrainian photographer Oleksandr Rupeta is a series of environmental portraits which capture the loving relationship between humans and the animals they take care of. The project was inspired by a picture shot by photographer Nikolai Ignatiev. “It shows a crocodile in a bathtub of an ordinary apartment in Moscow, and belonged to a mid-1990s reportage by Ignatiev about exotic animal dealers” Oleksandr tells FotoRoom. “In that time—shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the opening of the borders—the market of exotic animals was unregulated. Many of the animals that were brought into Ukraine during those years were purchased by private customers and have been living in small-sized apartments with their owners.”
For his project, Oleksandr ruled out animals kept at zoos, circuses, etc. and focused on people who have a passion for animals, and sometimes bought exotic animals to keep as domestic pets to save them from death. “I looked for my subjects in thematic groups on social networks, in news archives, and at meetings of animal lovers” he explains. “I’ve found many of the people I’ve photographed as I was already working on the project. My goal was to show them in their environment and capture their feelings for their animals.”
Each of Oleksandr’s subjects has a unique story: “Vladimir got a pig when going through a mid-life crisis; Alexander, as an experiment, lived in a cage with a lioness for five weeks; Tatyana lives with 93 cats, 7 dogs and a turtle in an apartment in the center of Kyiv; Michael decided to take care of his iguana because she had lost a limb as a result of an accident; and so on. But they are all driven by love, passion, curiosity and an idea of research and observation.”
With Someone in Your Corner, Oleksandr intends to “explore controversial questions and answer them ambiguously. For many people, owning an exotic animal raises ethical issues and are quick to judge the owners; I hope that those who see my images won’t point the finger at the people I photographed and will properly consider their stories.”
As a photographer, Oleksandr is still trying to “figure out what is photography for me and what is my place in it. Since 2018 I have focused on long-term personal documentary projects, and I have been mostly interested in social anthropology and social conflict topics.” He prefers to draw inspiration from art and literature rather than photography to avoid repeating what has already been done; yet he does have some favorite photographers, such as Richard Prince, Boris Mikhailov and Jacqui Kenny. He doesn’t buy photobooks (“During a certain time in my life, I got rid of my books—including photobooks—and have since tried not to own any volumes permanently“), but there are many ones that “I wouldn’t mind to spend time with“, like The Painter’s Pool by Jem Southam and the more recent The Coast by Sohrab Hura.
Oleksandr’s three words for photography are:
How. What. Why.