Interview with Photographer Anastasia Samoylova on Her Photo Book, “Floridas”

A discarded wig lays on the ground, disheveled among dirt and rocks. The way the strands land looks like the legacy of an octopus. Anastasia Samoylova hunches over and brings her head and shoulders into the frame in a way that almost appears as if she is wearing the wig.

The image, contrasted against a soft pink, is the cover of Samoylova’s second photo book, Floridas.

“Getting to know Florida has proven to be quite a journey,” the photographer tells NewTimes. “Getting to know Florida is like getting to know America itself. I find [Florida] fascinating and truly representative of the many issues this country struggles with and [also] celebrates. There’s a multiplicity to the state that I could express through my images, which is the aim of the book.”

The plurality in the title speaks directly to the incredible diversity Samoylova discovered while road tripping across Florida.

The Russian-born photographer has called Miami home for the past six years and has published two books dedicated to the Sunshine State.

FloodZone, Samoylova’s first love letter to the state, was published in 2020 and recently wrapped a solo show at HistoryMiami. For her sophomore effort, the artist once again worked with editor David Campany and German publishing house Steidl. Floridas was published earlier this year, and Samoylova will present a photo dialogue on Florida’s past and present at the Miami Book Fair in November.

The idea for Floridas was born out of road trips Samoylova took while researching FloodZone. On her travels, she came across the archives of photographer and painter Walker Evans.

“My interest in [Evans] began out of aesthetic kinship,” Samoylova says. “There are many ways in which our work is similar.” She notes both their minimalist approach to photography and subjects, as well as lighting choices.

Evans is best known for his photos of the Ringling Circus in Florida and his documentation of the effects of the Great Depression across the US Throughout his prolific career, the St. Louis-born photographer visited Florida several times.

The idea to showcase Evan’s images alongside Samoylova’s came from her editor, Campany. The archival photos juxtaposed with more contemporary ones are meant to add some historical perspective to Samoylova’s work.

Samoylova has been collecting the images featured in Floridas for more than four years. Most of the book was captured during the last presidential election when tensions in Florida were thicker than usual.

“People in Florida express their political views in exaggerated ways sometimes,” Samoylova notes.

At one point during her travels, she recounts how she had to purchase camouflage pants in order to fit into the crowd and not be perceived as a member of the media.

“My two books that revolve around Florida are subtle representations of the state in my attempt to perhaps debunk some stereotypes of the state,” she adds. “By no means is this book meant to be an objective representation of Florida. I don’t believe that can exist in art or photography.”

Floridas was created with an open mind and heart. The photographer not only took care in her handling of the places she photographed, but she spent time with the people in these communities and had countless conversations with all sorts of inhabitants.

Samoylova admits that the Magic City influenced her current course.

“I find Miami fascinating for so many reasons. It was Miami that changed my direction into documentary-style photography,” she says.

In 2016, she left her full-time job teaching photography and moved to Miami, where she pursued freelance work and engrained herself in the local art community.

In 2017, the Wolfsonian-FIU hosted an exhibit of Berenice Abbott’s photos from US Route 1. The show left a lasting impression on Samoylova. “I kept thinking about this, about the female gaze in photography and what the feminist take is on photography,” she says.

Documenting a road trip is quintessential Americana, and yet, Samoylova notes there are so few women photographers actively producing and adding to the genre. Inspired by Abbott, Samoylova decided to venture into the realm of documentary photography with a special focus on road-trip photography, leading her to create FloodZone and Floridas.

The Russian photographer is already hard at work on her third photo book. But unlike her previous work, Florida won’t be its focus.

“It is an extensive project that revolves around major European cities, and it’s a sort of female perspective on navigating the public place,” she says.

That photo book, Image Citiesis slated to be published in February 2023.

Floridas. By Anastasia Samoylova. Steidl. 2022. 179 pages. Hardcover, $49.99.


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