Gala Semenova is a self-taught Fine Art Portrait Photographer who lives and works in San Diego, California. She was born in Tula, Russia in 1981 and relocated to the States in 2009.
Her journey to discovering her own femininity revealed a deep connection to women as the subject of her artistic expression. Every expression of femininity—a woman’s personal story, her cultural context, every defeat, and victory—sheds light on the complexities of her own womanhood.
Semenova’s work is a response to the pressure-filled, patriarchal culture she left behind in Russia and the youth/beauty, a power-obsessed culture she now experiences in America. She strives to capture the true spirit of women, amplifying and revealing something absolutely personal that oftentimes is shared by many yet hasn’t been acknowledged or exposed. With each portrait, she aims to reveal the vulnerable woman inside to allow space for recognition, healing, and empowerment.
Semenova’s photography presents women and their stories, documents their lives in such a way that is feminine, powerful, and touching. Each photograph she takes reflects a part of her, of who she is.
Having been seen in her glory, a woman can see herself for whom she really is, and that in itself is a revolution.
How did you become a photographer, and what were you doing before photography?
Galina: I don’t think I became a photographer, it feels more that I was born with it=) I have had an interest in photography since my early years, I think I was 12 when I started taking pictures with my friends Polaroid camera. My parents gave me my first camera for my 14-th birthday, and it was the best present I could ever dream of. The camera became my concealment, my best friend who would always accompany me whenever I went out, and who made it possible for me to get forgotten in my dreams and never feel the overwhelming loneliness. I also had a school friend who let me wiz while creating black-and-white photos out of color films in a small photo laboratory located in her bathroom.
What is the best project you have worked on and how did you get involved with it?
Galina: I don’t think I have worked on my best project yet. All my art projects are very personal and based on my experience while growing up or maturing as a woman in manly society. I think I am currently working on my best project so far and it is about Domestic violence against women. It is, as well, rooted in my personal experience and I am tired of the silence that I have kept for years. I believe it is a perfect time to break this silence and start an open conversation about this issue. Too many women get affected by it and pandemics only made things worse for many women. Currently, I meet with my subjects who are ready to start a conversation about domestic abuse. And it has been a challenge on its own due to very heavy nature of the problem. I think I will be ready to start photographing these women pretty soon.
In your early days with a camera, what genres of photography you started to do before you specialized in Portraiture?
Galina: My relationship with the art of photography went through many stages =) In my early years, I loved to create landscapes. I was pretty shy to work with people so I chose to work with nature instead. I was into black and white photography inspired by Ansel Adams and create masters in history of photography. Landscape photography grew into working with a 4×5 large format camera and starting abstract photography in a studio. I loved turning simple objects into unrecognizable abstract art. It was a very deep learning and understanding of the process of creating art. Until maybe 2.5 years ago when my friend asked me to take pictures of her. That experience was a gateway to another universe and absolutely changed my artistic interests. I realized that I love taking portraits of women. And since then I have put all my time into developing my skills and studied privately with couple of female photographers whose artwork Is very inspiring for me.
You say your work is a response to the pressure-filled, patriarchal culture you’ve left behind in Russia and the youth/beauty, a power-obsessed culture she now experiences in America. That’s very interesting contrast, please tell me more about that.
Galina: I see that women in modern society don’t know their value. We have been taught that the word of a man is a law, that a woman is less than a man, that in order to be beautiful we need to look like a Barbie doll and many take is seriously starving themselves, doing plastic surgeries, putting implants in their bodies and so on.
That a woman can’t build a successful business career, that politics are not for women, that leadership isn’t for women. We let men dictate what we will wear. We let men decide how we will look and what the beauty standards are. The majority of women in the world don’t take responsibility for their life, they are taken care in
every possible way by men and pay a huge price for that by their freedom. We have learned how to deny our own needs and interests. My art is about women’s empowerment. Is about finding that true power within to create our own destiny, to become what we were born for, and to make changes in the world. The world needs us.
What was it that attracted you to this type of photography?
Galina: Do you mean portraiture? I realized that I just love the female body. There is so much beauty in all its forms and shapes. I love seeing strong and powerful women, even tho a lot of times these women don’t realize what kind of power they hold inside. I love an opportunity to open a woman’s eyes and show her something that she hasn’t yet recognized. And show it to the whole world. I create art to make changes in people’s lives.
What is your dream photo shoot, location, person, etc.?
Galina: I don’t think in these categories. I want my art to be a source of inspiration to others, I want to make positive changes in people’s lives. I don’t it is about a location or a person =)
What is the biggest challenge you have had to overcome and how did you do it?
Galina: My biggest challenge so far is my perfectionism. Because it creates a fear that I won’t do it perfect. Especially when I need to use new equipment. And this whole thing stops me from moving forward. Every project takes longer than I intended. But all I can do is keep moving forward one step at a time, everything
happens by divine order and I just need to keep following my desires and trust that I’ll find the best way to accomplish my project.
Besides photography and your creative activities, do you have any hobbies, something you like to do in your free time?
Galina: I see all my life as free time. I like working on my art projects in my free time. I always study something new. I like to take road trips =) I drive a lot! I like to experience life in many different ways, and I do it in my free time =)
Natural vs artificial light – What is your preference and in which situations you use one or the other?
Galina: I use natural light as my main source of lighting. I just love the light that comes from the sun, it feels more organic than artificial. But I believe that everything has its own purpose and use. It just happened the way that I work mostly with natural and use artificial only for some accents. I look for authenticity in my art and sunlight feels more authentic for me in this case.
Who are some photographers that inspire you?
Galina: There are many photographers and I won’t be able to remember all of them but to name a few I love Tim Walker, Irving Penn, Mona Kuhn, Kristina Varaksina, Katy Grannan, Rineke Dijkstra, Paolo Roversi, Julia Hetta.
What are you shooting these days?
Galina: I am working on a big project about Domestic violence against women as I mentioned earlier.