In 1989, two years before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Andy Bokanev and his family moved to New York City from Moscow. He was 8 years old at the time, and his stay in the US only lasted a couple of years. His family moved back, but later came back to the US. This time to New York City. It was there Bokanev developed a taste for aviation. Being a pilot was a more palatable option to his parents than his original plan, to be a drummer. His first flight lesson was on Monday, September 10th, 2001
Needless to say, timing presented some roadblocks to becoming an airline pilot, but his interest in aviation led to a job in Seattle. Once there, however, it was Bokanev's talent as a photographer that came to the forefront. Since he's decided to pursue photography, Bokanev has shot for Bicycling Magazine, Castelli, KEXP 90.3FM, Peloton Magazine, Portland Design Works, Rapha, Specialized, Neon Velo, Rapha Condor JLT and many others.
This interview is part of an ongoing series about cycling photographers. Thanks to Andy for his time.
What was the first race, or cycling-related thing that made an impression on you?
Growing up in Russia, sports were a constant presence on TV. Not just soccer and hockey, neither of which really interested me as a kid, but F1, rally and bike racing, all of which looked like a lot more fun than those other team sports. I had no idea what was happening but I was fascinated but the culture and grandeur of it all. The first sports related thing that made an impression on me was the death of Senna. But through my teenage years music took over as my main focus and I did not look back to motorsports or cycling until my late 20s.
Which brings me to 2012. Me and my wife were on vacation in Bend, Oregon in July of that year. Unbeknownst to me the Cascade Cycling Classic was taking place that week and the entire town was filled with team vehicles and all of the cafes were packed with pro cyclists (or at least guys who looked like pro cyclists). To add to the atmosphere, the Tour was on every TV in every establishment. And that's when it happened. It's like a long-dormant feeling got reactivated and I have been consuming everything cycling related ever since.
Why did you start taking pictures beyond snapshots and such, and when did you start taking pictures of cycling?
I started taking photographs when I moved to Seattle. I don't know if it was the environment around, the ocean, the mountains, etc, but I wanted to capture it. Once I got the landscape bug out of my system, I realized that I really like taking photographs on the activities I was into. Climbing, mountaineering, surfing. That kind of stuff. So when I really fell for cycling it was a natural transition. It actually started with me bringing a camera to some of the cyclocross races that we have here in Seattle and grew from there.
Whose work do you admire (photography or otherwise) that inspires or influences you?
The photographs that inspire me the most are by some of the usual suspects. Henri Cartier-Bresson, Andre Kertesz, Robert Frank. At first glance the photographs so simple and unassuming., but I end up staring at them for hours. I'm really into what a lot of the skateboarding photographers are doing. Guys like Arto Saari, Claudio Majorana, Ben Gore and Ed Templeton. I don't skate and never have. But I love what they do.
Talking about bikes can be boring, in the same way that talking about cameras (instead of photography) can be. Having said that, give me a rundown of your basic kit when shooting.
Oh man. This changes. A lot. And pretty often. I do rely on my 5D a lot. It's seen a lot of dirt, rain, mud, dust and sea salt. I'll never be able to sell it. Every now and then I like to use a mirrorless Fuji because they take great photographs and are pretty inconspicuous. I love to shoot film and really like when I can work that into a project. I get the most enjoyment out shooting with my Voigtlander rangefinder. No matter the camera, I think my main technique or approach or whatever is to shoot with a fixed focal length. I feel like I frame scenes in my mind before I even look through the viewfinder and a zoom lens kind of messes with that.
Much of photography currently (outside the realm of commercial work) has been greatly influenced by the work (and ideas put forth) by Henri Cartier-Bresson. Do you subscribe to the idea of the the "decisive moment" Maybe sometimes, all the time, or never?
Absolutely. It is always so satisfying to know that something is about to happen and then to capture it. All in a millisecond. Cameras these days, of course, can take a million shots per minute, but that's not really my approach. I feel like I have learned more from photographs I have missed that from that ones I have taken.
What do you love about being a photographer?
The freedom to pursue basically any project I am interested in. The ability to document the side of the story that may seem boring or unnecessary on the surface. To have the same approach to the exciting and the seemingly mundane.
Conversely, what do you hate about it?
It's not the easiest way in the world to make a living. But it works.
What's the most annoying thing that people ask you as a result of being Russian?
I have yet to hear a question that would annoy me actually. A lot of them have to do with stuff like vodka, dancing bears, Ivan Drago and Sputnik. So far, so good.
What's the most annoying thing that people ask you as a result of living in Seattle?
It's not hard to believe, but it usually has something to do with rain.
What's the most annoying thing that people ask you as a result of being a photographer?
Did you take any cool shots today?
What's your dream photo assignment
Oh man. That changes daily. But I have never been to the Spring Classics, so checking that out is very near the top of my list.
You may also enjoy this video/film/thingy I made about Colombian cycling photographer Horacio Gil Ochoa.