Photographer Polina Osherov may live in Carmel, but, she says, "I consider myself completely international."
Osherov was born in Russia and did most of her growing up in Australia. More on that soon. At the moment, she's sitting in her Stutz Building studio, a high-ceilinged black box that's been made to seem much larger than it is by an enormous swoosh of white paper soaring up from the floor to the roof beams.
The paper backdrop is meant to create an illusion of limitless space. Overcoming limitations has been a hallmark of Osherov's work, both as fashion photographer in a market not known for its flair, and as an activist at the heart of a collaborative effort called Pattern, trying to make fashion a more recognizable part of the Indianapolis scene.
"There's a lot going on and maybe you have to work a little harder to find it, but it's here," Osherov says with a blue-eyed glint that, combined with a raspy laugh, gives her a slightly mischievous edge. "It's happening."
Cameras are second nature to Osherov. Her father was a highly regarded cinematographer in Moscow. But being of Jewish heritage, the Osherovs had an uneasy life in the Soviet Union or, as Osherov says, "My parents were not very excited about being part of the communist empire."
The family was allowed to apply to emigrate. The process took more than two years, but finally resulted in a move to Melbourne. Although this got the Osherovs out of a repressive environment, it was a temporary setback for Osherov's father. "He was one of the top filmmakers in Moscow but, in Australia, he was just a weird-looking dude with an accent."
Osherov's multi-lingual parents found work as language translators. Then, at about the time Osherov was graduating from high school, they were offered jobs by an organization in Chicago that wanted translations of religious tracts for distribution in the post-Glasnost U.S.S.R. The family moved again.
"I'm an only child," Osherov says, "so I didn't have any say in it."
Osherov received an international student scholarship to attend St. Xavier University on Chicago's southwest side.
"I was the typical college bachelor of arts student who went through everything, from graphic design to architecture, to political science," she says. "I ended up with a degree in physician assistance studies. I could have been a doctor!"
Osherov met her husband of 17 years, the successful motivational speaker Ben Glenn, at St. Xavier and helped manage Glenn's speaking career, as it took off throughout the Midwest. Frustrated with the high cost of living in Chicago, not to mention its cold climate, the couple decided to move to Indianapolis. "Three hours south made a big difference for us financially and weather-wise - and still allowed the business to continue."
They arrived in the Circle City in 1999.
On a lark
Osherov didn't begin to think of herself as a photographer until she had the first of her two children. "In the digital photography age you see a lot of people, especially those in retail photography - the ones that shoot kids, weddings, seniors - are women. They started with shooting their children, and then found out they were good at it," Osherov says. "I fall into that category. I was reminded how much I loved it."
But when Osherov tried her hand at photographing kids, weddings and seniors: "I hated all of it."
Then she stumbled upon an ad on Craigslist. Photographer Jay Gambino needed help shooting a fashion show. "I called him on a lark," Osherov says.
The experience not only provided Osherov with entrée to a new scene, it gave her the chance to stretch her abilities. "I had always been a natural light shooter, but I felt that to go to the next level, I had to understand strobes and get familiar with [other forms of artificial lighting]."
She brought a strobe to the fashion show and duct-taped it to a pole. "The pictures turned out great. They were different."
Soon Osherov was meeting people in the city's burgeoning creative class and doing self-assigned fashion shoots, "to expand my craft and get the hang of it." Things, as she puts it, "snowballed."
Osherov says her feel for fashion has been a work-in-progress. "I remember when I was younger, I would look at the runway stuff - the fall issue of Vogue that's two-inches thick - and skip over all of it because I didn't know what I was looking at. So much of it is pretty outlandish. Who is going to wear this? Who can afford it? But I've since learned it's more intricate than that. It's everything, from shoes to hair to make-up. A lot of it's in the details, then how that translates to real life. How you interpret it. There's a whole creative process."
She says it took her years to understand the real importance of shoes. "I could not wrap my mind around how women could spend $200, $300, $400 on a pair of shoes. But I've finally grasped that the outfit starts with a shoe. You have a great shoe, it literally can take the entire outfit from boring and mundane to the most stylish, chic thing ever. It's completely bizarre, but I get it now."
For Osherov, a successful fashion shoot often begins with what she calls "stories" that might be inspired by run-down buildings or a beautiful natural setting. "I'll percolate on that. I don't know that there's a formula. Usually, I accumulate ideas and inspiration when I'm not actively trying to think about a shoot. Like any creative person, you just have these notebooks and you collect pictures and it all marinates. Then, one day, you see a location or a model and you go, 'Oh, yeah! I've been thinking about this for a year.'"
Osherov's work displays an unabashed theatricality and romance. Although she understands the appeal of photographers who work against expectations by deliberately looking for ugly or otherwise disturbing imagery, "that's too deep for me," she laughs. "I'm in it to make beautiful pictures."
"I think it catches someone's eye if they can somehow relate to it," Osherov says of her image-making. "It's a situation they've been in, or they want to be in, or they can imagine themselves being in. I think my goal is to create a beautiful image that is a fantasy of sorts that a consumer would buy into."