Prepare The Flash shines a light on folks that shine a light themselves. The people behind the camera, taking pictures of the artists we all love. Let's take a look behind the scenes of some of Belgium’s most infamous clickers. This has to be one of the most special articles in this series. For this time, we’re interviewing one of Red Bull Elektropedia’s most iconic photographers, Daniil Lavrovski. The Bruges-based 25-year-old started out by taking pictures of the local skate scene and slowly shifted towards nightlife photography, a domain in which he quickly became one of the best in the field. By 2016, he was crowned Belgium’s best nightlife photographer on the Red Bull Elektropedia Awards and people saw the grim-faced Lavrovski on parties across the country every weekend. Now, he told us he wanted to take things into a new direction. That means it was the perfect timing to dedicate an in-depth interview to one of the most influential players in this game.
Hi Daniil, it’s great to feature a photographer we’ve been working with since a very long time. You’ve covered countless events for us, but you told us you’re going in different directions from now on. What does that mean exactly?
Well, although I really enjoyed working in nightlife, I have to admit that it has started to take its toll after 4 years. The funny thing is that I never really took nightlife all that seriously. It always felt like I was just going out with a camera by my side. Before I knew, nightlife photography became one of my main occupations and it accounted for the majority of my energy and focus. It's all fun and games until you realize you’ve become a slave of your own lifestyle, you know? I started to notice I didn’t enjoy those long nights anymore. That kind of lifestyle was starting to drown my creativity and productivity. In the end, I've had a pretty good run, I’ve been to so many places, I’ve met incredible people and most important of all, I’ve had so much fun along the way.
So where are you going now?
I’ve decided to recalibrate my focus and work my way back on track towards a new goal. After a much needed hiatus from nightlife photography I want to put my energy on portraits, press, fashion and brand photography. Making this shift is hard though. It’s not that I wanted to quit nightlife but it was more of a rational decision, choosing for a healthier lifestyle. I won’t quit entirely of course. Sometimes my fingers still itch, but you won't find me shooting in clubs that often anymore.
The funny thing is that I never really took nightlife all that seriously. It always felt like was I just going out with a camera by my side
From all the events you visited taking pictures, which have been some of the most memorable?
If I would have to pick out a few, I would go with HORST and Dour Festival. I've covered the former 3 times now and it's always adventurous. The scenery is beautiful, the music is great and the crowd is amazing. For me, it’s just picture perfect. Each year, I get to meet amazing people, discover a bunch of artists I have never heard and just have an absolute blast. That last edition sticks out even more. It's been ages since a festival sparked that desire to relive a moment that hard. And HORST succeeded in doing so. My second choice is Dour Festival, which always feels like coming home. It’s the first festival I ever went to. By now, I’ve already witnessed eight editions and only missed out on one. Shooting Dour is always something special.
How did you end up doing that amazing cover shoot for Amelie Lens on Mixmag?
Well, Amelie and I got to know each other throughout the years when I worked as a nightlife photographer. I've shot multiple events where she played and I also covered the launch event of her CKS clothing collection somewhere last year. One day, I received a message from her saying she will get the cover story of Mixmag and would like me to shoot it. The magazine approved and I was beyond stoked! Just as it was a big deal for Amelie, it was a big deal for me too. I can’t say I wasn’t stressed. The results were good. The shoot itself was very organic. Amelie knows how to behave in front of a camera and it felt like we were just hanging out for the day while I was taking pictures here and there. I'm super grateful towards everyone involved for the amazing opportunity.
Let’s do a little throwback now. Your bio says you were born in Russia and only moved to Belgium when you were 5 years old. Please do tell us your story…
Yeah! I was Born in Kaliningrad, a small Russian enclave by the Baltic Sea, tucked between Poland and Lithuania. I come from a family of musicians: my mom is a pianist, my grandfather was a saxophone and clarinet teacher and my grandmother was a choirmaster. They all taught at the Music Conservatory of Kaliningrad. So I was surrounded by music since I was a baby (which maybe explains why I ended up in nightlife at one point). But life as a classical musician in Kaliningrad was tough. The wages were ridiculously low and most of the musicians lived in poverty. My mom dreamt of moving to Europe to seek for a better life and provide a better future for me, since my biological father wasn't the best person to be around. Around the year 2000 my mom had the opportunity to move to Belgium and she took it with both hands. We ended up in living in De Panne for several years, where I went to primary school. After that, we moved to Oostduinkerke followed by Bruges, where I still live today.
Do you remember the moment you fell in love with photography?
My love for photography emerged through skateboarding. My mom always used to buy me skate magazines like Thrasher, Transworld Skateboarding and Sugar Skate Mag. Seeing all those skateboarding pictures really sparked my interest for photography. I wanted to capture my skater friends in the same way as those shots in the magazines. By the time I was 14, I used my mom’s camera so often that she bought me a snapshot camera so I would stop using hers. By the age of 16, I bought my first digital single-lens reflex camera. From that moment onwards, photography took over my life.
Do you still skate often?
I still try to skate as often as I can. Even though I don't have that much time anymore, it's still very important to me.
I don't use photography as a tool to reflect reality, I use it to romanticize a moment.
How many lenses have been broken or stolen over your lifetime? :)
The funny thing is that I've never broken a lens before, nor have I got one stolen. I just hope it stays that way! The only thing I break are flashes. I think I've already went through 7 by now. That’s an expensive joke.
Comparing the past with the present, how would you describe your evolution as a photographer?
In the beginning, I mostly did black and white snapshot photography with my friends as models. Now I work in colour, my images are more calculated and I handle my lighting with care. I've learned how to work with people, how to deal with clients and how to make someone feel at ease in front of the lens. That might actually be the biggest difference. When I was younger, I was really shy. I was so scared to ask people if I could take their photograph and I had no idea how to handle a shoot. Through experience, I learned how to get over that insecurity and how to be more confident. One of the red lines in my work is that I don't use photography as a tool to reflect reality, but I use it to romanticize a moment.
We know it’s hard to say about yourself, but what sets you apart from other photographers?
That’s hard indeed (laughs). It might be in the way of handling things. I always try to keep it fun and spontaneous. I'm not the guy who is extremely serious about his work ethics. I'm a pretty positive person, so it's important that this is reflected in my way of working. Additionally, it's crucial not to force anything. I'm also kind of a nerd when it comes to lighting. I pay a lot of attention on how I use light in my images. I could say I'm pretty technical, but not in the right way (laughs).
As someone who has always been the middle man between brands and culture (be it skateboarding or nightlife), how do you perceive that fragile relation between both sides?
I try to stay true to what I love and like. If something doesn't feel right, I won't do it. As far as I can, I try to work with brands that stand for those cultures. It’s the only way to keep the overall vibe and credibility of a project. There's a thin line between staying true to a culture and capitalizing from it. There are too many culture vultures these days. Even I cross that line sometimes, but it doesn't make it less important to pay attention to.
You’re one half of Studio DaDa. Tell us a little more about that project.
Well, Studio DaDa is a collective of two that I formed with Davy Denduyver. Davy is a graphic designer I've known for several years now. About a year ago, he started renting a workspace in the same building where I was renting mine, so we passed each other almost every day. We got along pretty well and it became clear we understood each other’s creative visions, which were pretty complementary. That’s why we decided to join forces. My studio was a bit too big for me at the time and his was a bit smaller, so he moved all his stuff to my mines. And that's how Studio Dada was born. We still work on our own projects, but with this joint project we deliver the ‘total package’: I do the photography, while he does the art direction and graphic design. We're only just starting out, but it's going pretty good already. Hopefully it could become a real ‘studio’ or ‘creative agency’ one day.
If there’s one tip you could give to beginning photographers, what would it be?
My tip for any beginning photographer is that hard work is key. Follow your passion. There will be obstacles, long days, unpaid work, hard times. But it's all worth it. Look for the things that spark your interest, reflect on yourself, reinvent yourself. Take as many pictures as possible, because the more you shoot, the better you will become. As soon as you find yourself having a lot of commissioned work, make sure you don't lose yourself. Keep the balance between paid and autonomous work. Those are the things I always have to remind to myself as well.
Any big projects coming up that you can share with us?
Recently I’ve been working on some bigger projects with Studio Brussel and Bounce Rocks, my agency. But for now, my biggest project coming up is a completely autonomous project. I won't spill the beans yet I’m afraid, but it might be something involving a new photobook (winks).