Some eight years ago, when I was starting with my photography passion, I came across a talented young photographer from Ukraine. It was on DeviantArt where I first saw his work, and it made a huge impression on me. Though he didn’t know, I followed his work over the years and he grew into a brilliant photographer, with a slightly odd taste in subjects for his artwork, but very much to my liking.
Today he has a team, Flexteam, that consists of designers, assistants and his wife as an excellent retoucher. His name is Stanislav Istratov.
1. What does FlexDream mean? Why did you choose that name?
It started with my old nick name Flex from my childhood and computer games. Flex meaning “flexibility”. FlexDreams name derived from that, meaning “the dreams of Flex”. I use the name FlexDreams for my dark artwork. When I do commercial work, I work under my real name, Stanislav Istratov, for business reasons.
2. When did you get involved in photography work? What is the story behind your beginnings?
In 2007. I bought my first camera and that’s how it started. Previously I worked as a system administrator in IT sector, until 2009, when I decided to give up my job for photography. It was a difficult decision to lose a steady job, but it was impossible for me to do both at the same time. I thought I could gain more success in life with photography work, because many people can work as an IT person, but fewer can produce the kind of photography work as I can.
It was a hard learning process. There is no good photography education in Ukraine, so I learned by myself, mostly with the help of other fellow photographers on the social networks.
3. What motivated you in the early days and has the inspiration stayed the same over the years?
What pushed me towards the photography has not changed. I needed to express myself through photography work, it became kind of an addiction even. In the past days I didn’t have many concepts, I shot what I saw, I shot a model on some location, without having a make up artist or a stylist. But the inspiration changed a bit over the years. Today I have too many concepts that I would like to do, but not enough time to do all of them, so I must narrow the selection from, for example, a hundred concepts to maybe ten of them.
4. You work now as a team. Who is also in your team?
Irina, my wife as a retoucher and Inna as the assistant. They are involved in 90% of the shootings. I collaborate with make up artists and designers, hair stylists and also two to three other retouchers. Sometimes two or three different retouchers work on one photo. But the team has three main people, and that is me, Irina who is my wife and the main retoucher and Inna, our assistant.
5. What does your usual working day look like?
We work in a studio. The assistant, make up artists, stylist and hair stylist come before me to prepare models. Inna controls everything, making sure everything gets ready on time. Shoots take two to three hours, I shoot very fast. We have for example one hair stylist, two make up artists, two to three models and five concepts for one day, so I rotate models, having five to seven different looks.
6. What themes attract you the most and why?
Gothic, dark, fetish. I don’t really know the why. I just like to see such images. I myself am not involved in the gothic scene, I don’t have tattoos or piercings, but I like to see that style on others, I like dark esthetics. I think I just do those better than other themes. But I do like “dark” music.
7. Some of your work is conceptual. Do you prefer portraits over conceptual work or is it the other way around?
It is not really important to me whether the work is conceptual or not. What is important is to get a good quality image, and it is more important to me than choosing between conceptual and portrait work.
8. Who are your models? Do you work with agency models or find your muses some other way?
I work with agency models only for the commercial work, but for my dark art I don’t use agency models. I have some 10-15 models I usually work with and I work with the same one maybe 3-4 times a year.
9. What do you seek in a model?
A model must have a good portfolio. It is not of a great importance to me what they look like, but what I find more important is their personality, the character, and if the model is easy to work with. I don’t like models who are too demanding or complicated.
10. Some of your work can be described as macabre or gore. Where does the inspiration for that kind of work come from?
I have thoughts that I need to express. Some things you can do in photos and not in real life. I wouldn’t call them nightmares. They are a way to provoke others.
11. Why are you drawn to fetish themes?
For me it has nothing to do with erotic component. I do fetish shoots because of the challenge. It is very difficult to shoot latex, from the technical side, because of the light. It is very complicated work and that’s why I find it interesting.
12. You also do commercial work. Who are your clients in general?
I do commercial work, yes, but I am also a stock photographer, selling a lot of my stock photos. Many of the clients are other photographers who need retouch work on their photos.
13. Do you prefer studio work over outdoor locations?
I prefer studio work because of the controlled environment.
14. On your web site you also present wonderful photomanipulations as well. Is that a joint venture with your wife Irina?
Irina does photomanipulations, sometimes from my work but not all the time. She uses some other photographers’ work too.
15. Do you have favorite designers or brands you work with?
We work with designers but we also have our own costumes and accessories that we use on shoots.
16. Do you work abroad?
Yes, as a photographer two to three times a year, mainly in Russia, but in some other countries as well. In the retouching business most of our clients are from abroad.
17. Tell us something about Ukraine photography scene.
I really don’t have much time to follow my colleagues’ work, since I am very busy, so I don’t know much about what’s going on. I have very little time to communicate with other photographers.
18. What would be your message to young photographers just starting?
Don’t start! I say that because it is a very hard path. When you start you don’t even know what you’re starting. People think it’s all about money and fame, but it is in fact hard and very complicated work.
19. It is said that every artist’s work says something about the artist. What do you think your work says about Stanislav Istratov?
I don’t have a good answer to that question. I can’t see my art from the other side. For me, it is not like a mirror, it is more like a window, I can only see outside, but not inside.
Interview by Marija Buljeta
All artwork @FlexDreams