“I hope this story will show how close to each other we can actually be”: Tanya Sharapova on her new series Strangers
Over a seven-month lockdown in Berlin, the photographer decided to meet a stranger a day and depict the importance of human connection.
- Ayla Angelos
- 23 November 2021
Seven months into a lockdown in Berlin, Tanya Sharapova had an idea: to photograph a stranger a day. Devised primarily as an attempt to “build connections with Berliners and the city” during the pandemic, the project sparked something for the photographer as she “had a reason” to go out, to cycle around the city and, most imperatively, speak with new people she hadn’t met before. This inquest has now reached fruition and resultantly amassed into a series of pictures, aptly named Strangers.
Tanya – who’s worked as a picture editor at Conde Nast and for publications like National Geographic and Conde Nast Traveller – grew up in Moscow and moved to the German capital around two years ago. Before venturing to the new city, she’d travelled the world as a photographer and writer, specialising in the Himalayan region. Three years of this nomadic lifestyle passed and she decided to settle down, and Berlin seemed the fitting choice – “now I can truly call Berlin my home,” she thought. And then, the pandemic hit. The world over was experiencing disruptions and despair due to the imposed lockdowns (and many other reasons, of course). To help deal with the troubling arrival of Covid-19, many turned to art as a remedy – Tanya included.
“During 217 days, the closest and safest distance I could stand near anyone was one metre and a half – at this exact distance, I took all my up-close portraits. I recorded stranger’s coordinates by taking a second frame farther apart, finding the place where the person I met that day mimicked the landscape,” she tells It’s Nice That. “Under the wave of large numbers of infections and red columns of epidemiological statistics, we were creating a chronicle of the time when the city and its citizens froze, waiting for better news.” And what better way to laud the arrival of relaxed restrictions (for now) than with a creative pursuit like this? Of course, the journey into making this series wasn’t an easy ride for Tanya. Not only did she have her camera stolen mid-way through (she was able to raise funds for a new one through her following and friends) but not everyone agreed to be photographed. Then, as luck had it after six people consecutively said “no”, a “beautiful stranger” near where she lived was keen to get involved.
As such, Tanya is utterly thankful to those who said yes, and those who are able (and willing) to share their stories with her. During the process, Tanya was enlightened by two stories in particular; one was of a homeless man, who always sits at the bus stop by her house “reading tonnes of books.” Curious about this man, “but too shy to ask what these books are about,” she decided to take the plunge and introduce herself – a move that was catalysed after her camera was pinched and she realised how she shouldn’t put things on the back-burner. “So I immediately went to the bus stop where Gerhard was usually reading his books. I didn’t find him there, but five minutes later I spotted him sitting on a bench in a small park nearby. He appeared to be a very kind and shy man.” The second story occurred just before Christmas, where she’d met a “personal Santa” named George near The Brandenburg Gate. “Out of nowhere he gifted me a paper English-German dictionary,” she recalls. “And you will never believe that I was thinking of buying it just one day before!”
The pictures in Strangers are somewhat serious in tone, devoid of any unnecessary effects or splashy colours. Instead, they depict Tanya’s subjects for who they are and in the moment of meeting. It’s refreshing to see people captured like this – without all the embellishments – especially when it’s addressing a topic like the pandemic, and thus the importance of human connections. “Many people told me how touching this story is,” she adds. “Especially at the time when we were locked in our apartments, seeing only close friends and relatives. I hope this story will show how close to each other we can actually be. That it is not that difficult to approach a stranger on the street. I hope that I managed to document that important time, when we were more fragile than ever.”
Tanya Sharapova: Strangers. Day 194. Antje. 15.05.2021, Bergmannstraße. “At the age of forty I’ve completely changed my life.” (Copyright © Tanya Sharapova, 2021)
About the Author
Ayla is currently covering Jenny as It’s Nice That’s online editor. She has spent nearly a decade as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.