Valentino Zharkovsky on the truth, the lie and his first exposition 'The Paradox Complex'

Here it is! My first interview with a very talented soul. Valentino Zharkovsky is a fashion photographer based in Belgium and is having his first solo exposition this coming saturday. We met each other at a nightclub, facebook friends for a while and now, after a cup of tea and laughter, we're teaming up for this interview. Without further ado, enjoy and let me know what you think!

Valentino Zharkovsky, photography, fashion, art
Valentino Zharkovsky / 23 / Belgium / Taurus

Tell us about yourself.
I’m 23 years old and a fashion photographer from Belgium. 

How did you got into photograpy? 
I’ve always been into fashion and cinema, but neither seemed the right fit for me. When I stumbled upon photography, partly through my one year education in photography in Highschool, I knew it would be the perfect medium to mix fashion and cinema together.

Are you self-taught or do you have any education in art or photography?
Yes, one year photography in Highschool. I’ve learned all the basics and techniques, mainly analogue. The digital side was a lot of self study and I learned from tutorials on the internet. Self taught! (DIY That’s the best way!)

What was your first camera?
My first camera was a Yashica. So I started analogue for my school assignments and my first fashion shoots. After two three shoots, just to test whether fashion photography would be my thing, I decided to buy a digital camera. (And do you still shoot analogue?) No, not anymore. (Why not?) My way of editing is difficult to apply in analogue photography. It’s possible but I wouldn’t achieve the same effect as in digital. Nothing against analogue of course but I like to shoot digital. It’s very fast, more accessible, you can take more pictures and don’t have to switch film. 

Define your work in a few words.
Defining my work is pretty simple. It’s basically the title of my exposition, A Paradox Complex. It forms the base of my work. You can look at it as having a complex where I constantly create paradoxes as I experience more of life. Something beautiful against something dark, but it still works together. This is how I emphasize everything.

Do you work around certain subjects?
It’s pretty personal. Mostly inner-growth and self-acceptance in an unapologetic manner. Behind every picture, there is a real story, but always presented through a different filter.

In your own portfolio, what are some important series for you?
There is one that is very important for me and it’s called Motel 9. I chose this one, because when I was in the middle of creating it, I had a great feeling about it. It’s a complete story and this is also the direction I want to go in for my future projects. Same goes for Elastic Effect, because it was also my first ever publication. And lastly, there is one more, which is a new one and will be shown in my exposition, Portrait of a Night Stalker. All of them are different, but when put together, you’ll see similarities. (Yes, you feel they fit all in one picture.) Yes, there is always a balance between the darkness of the story and the bold/colourful edit. These three series show that balance perfectly.

Valentino Zharkovsky, photography, fashion, art
Valentino Zharkovsky, photography, fashion, art
In terms of people keeping you inspired, who comes to mind?
Too many! No no, totally not (haha). David Lynch, Stanley Kubrick, Gaspar Noé and Gregg Araki. They are all directors. (Why this choice?) I barely look at other photographers and definitely fashion photographers, because I think if you look too much at their work, there is the chance you’ll copy them, consciously or unconsciously. It’s human, but I’d rather not. Cinema has always been with me since the beginning together with fashion. I love the way these directors present their story.

Tell us about your upcoming exhibition.
It's my first solo exposition and it's been a long time coming. Last year, 'round December, Simon Hugé from Fungamesboys, the organisation with whom I collaborate, contacted me for a group exposition they were doing, but back then I felt it wasn’t my time yet. I hadn’t made enough material to expose, but a few months later Simon and I talked about it again. He asked me again if I wanted to participate in a group exposition, I asked for a solo one, so I could show a lot more work and offer a total experience for people who enjoy my work. (Your exposition isn’t that far anymore!) Yes! One week to go and it all feels a bit surreal. It will only be one night, a one way ticket! There will be printed work and digital work presented in a fitting decor, a special soundtrack… and much more, all to complete my vision!

What is something most people don’t know about you?
There is one thing that I think nobody knows and it has nothing to do with photography. Everyday I wear two rings (shows golden ring on his ring finger and a silver one on his pink) and I never leave the house without them. They are symbolic for my parents, the silver one with a V engraved in stands for my mom. It was also her ring when she was younger. The golden one stands for my dad. I see these as my lucky charms and everywhere I go, family is with me. You can also link it with the stories behind my pictures. No matter how lonely or dark the pictures may look like, family is still there very close while I was creating it. They are like my guardian angels.

What are some mistakes you’ve made as a photographer and learned from?
In the beginning I was too naive, kindhearted and dealing with the wrong people, but eventually you learn from that. I always try to be friendly to people and kindhearted but sometimes, especially in this area, it’s business at the end of the day. Not everyone has the right intentions and you’ll have to stand strong against these types of people.

Valentino Zharkovsky, photography, fashion, art
Valentino Zharkovsky, photography, fashion, art
Do you have any rituals– whether before shooting?
I don’t really have rituals. I just have to be in the right mind set, because my work is very personal and I have to get that feeling… (you think of certain personal events?) Yes certainly. When the models are getting ready for the shoot, I try to think of the meaning of my story, what happened to me and how I felt about it. But if I don’t feel it, then it's not going to translate well.

Who do you dream of photographing/collaborating with?
Well my dreams are big, I think everybody has some qualities I could work with, but there a few which I think are interesting to collaborate with, visual wise. Lana Del Rey, she would fit perfectly in my work. Vintage, mysterious and sometimes very dark. Another one, Teddy Sinclair, is pretty much the same. For the rest, I like the golden age of Hollywood, because it was the peak of a manufactured industry. For example Jayne Mansfield. She was basically like the second Marylin Monroe, but more blonde, more sexual. She is also a big inspiration for looks, make up and sometimes styling. And if you look very closely, you can spot her in my work! (No way! Going to investigate that!)

If want to see more of his work, have a look at his website or instagram.
For the ones who are interested in the exposition:

WHEN: 12 November 2016, 20:00—23:00
WHERE: Kerk Gent, kerkstraat 24, 9050 Gentbrugge

Come and join us! It's a one night only event!


  1. Nice interview ... see you at the exposition :D

  2. Fantastic interview, loved hearing about photography through a professionals point of view. And so happy to discover his work. Thank you girl! xxx

    1. Oh you're welcome! Thank you Lucie! xoxo