A couple months ago, I promised to write about why I (an American) moved to Russia.
I started my wildlife photography business in 2005; I have been a full-time photographer now for five years; part time for a bit before that time. In 2007, I spent six months in Russia and in July of 2010; I moved to Russia.
I am an American; in my mid-fifties; speak, maybe 30 words of Russian and understand those 30 Russian words and no more. Why would I leave the comfort and convenience of good Ol' USA for extreme cold and forbidding Russia? A country full of hardships, regulations, paperwork, more regulations, restrictions, etc.
You know, the reason is plain and simple; it is not just one reason but many-but all are pretty simple. Before I started my wildlife photography business; I was a successful scientist making as much money as I could spend (doing well); living in a luxury condominium-you know the type, marble floors, shining brass elevators, concierge named James at the front desk greeting you as you arrive "Good Morning Mr. Henderson, would you like me to carry your photography baggage to your suite". Life was more than good, it was a total bore; it was a breeze and it was to easy! I want life to be a challenge.
So, I decided to trade in my luxury lifestyle for the life of a starving artist. Now, I do not mean a starving artist living on a big pension or a large saving account; I mean an artist that is excited when he gets a 0.46 cent Dreamstime sale because that will buy two packs of Chinese noodles and feed him for the day.
Okay, what are the reasons, or at least a few of them for trading in this luxury lifestyle and coming to Russia.
1. Life as a starving artist is a challenge; if you work hard you might eat!
2. Living in a country without knowledge of the language is also a challenge.
3. I wanted to do something unique. There are thousands of excellent photographers in America; heck, maybe millions of them. I felt like a mustard seed (that's a very very small seed for those that have not read the Bible) lost in the sea of bigger seeds. You read about these photographers from America, traveling to Africa, Anarctica, Falkland Islands, Amazon, Costa Rica, etc taking pictures of anything the moves or breathes. These same photographers are also circling around North America with stops at Yellowstone, Jasper, Churchhill, Ft. Desoto, St. Augustine Alligator Farm, Pt. Pelee, etc. I did not want to follow the crowd; been there, done that and had a few t-shirts to prove it. Where can I go and do something new; a friend suggested Russia.
Russia; my mind tried to grasp the images of Iron Curtain, long lines waiting for bread, gulags, and all the other propaganda. Then I started to do some research; to my knowledge, no non-native wildlife photographer has ever come to Russia to photograph this country full-time. Sure, there have been a few that came for a short stay or came for an extended stay of a few months on assignment. What I said is full-time; not a weekend, a couple weeks or even a month or two; I mean living, eating, breathing, and walking in Russia as a wildlife photographer.
Remember a couple paragraphs earlier I mentioned starving artist. Well, I am not jetting around Russia staying in hotels and eating cavier. I am living at a nature park with the animals, using an outdoor toilet (you know, squat and leave it) and struggling with the extremes of weather and nature. No car, no McDonald's, no peanut butter or yellow mustard, etc-if I want to go somewhere, I walk.
I believe; someday, maybe long after I am gone from this world, Russia will be a popular destination for wildlife photographers. Sure, there are a few coming to Kamchatka and Lake Baikal but I am speaking of the country of Russia, not these two choice locations. I plan to write a book about Photography in Russia and hopefully my travels will help pave the way for others to follow, someday.
This is the life I have chosen and I love it. I am no longer a very small mustard seed; I feel I have made and will continue to make a significant contribution to the community in Russia. I have been on Russian national television about ten times, written up in countless newspapers, given shows at museums, camera clubs, shopping centers, etc. In my small way, maybe I am helping show others the beautiful world that is just outside their front door and maybe a couple of them will help conserve a bit of space for the animals. My meager income at Dreamstime is helping to pay for my lifestyle. Thank you Dreamstime.