Darkness can be peculiar and otherworldly, and Yulia Shur perfectly embraces the two in her photography. Yulia’s shot for i-D Japan, MUSE, and Thom Browne! But the Belarusian-born, Tokyo-based visual artist and art director does more than take pictures. She stretches the limits of photography through self-portraiture, illusions, subconscious fantasies, and “poisoned beauty”. She fearlessly creates images that are true to her vision and the end result is always the same—a kaleidoscope of feelings and reactions. Strange, disturbing, ethereal—call it what you want! Yulia’s work may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but aren’t those the building blocks of all great art?
Please introduce yourself!
My name is Yulia Shur. I am a Belarusian-born art director, photographer and director, [and I’ve been] based in Tokyo for the past 4 years.
When did you discover your passion for photography?
I became interested in photography at 15. While everyone was playing computer games, I studied Photoshop by myself. I am from a small town, so I couldn’t even think of a career as a photographer. Therefore, I retouched photos for different photographers around the world until my early 20s. The first time I took the camera in my hands was at 21 after I spent almost 3 months in Shanghai.
How would you describe your photography style?
Dark, wet, deep lucid dream. I try to play on the edge of reality and illusion—between something magical and beautiful, disgusting and repulsive all at the same time.
Why did you decide to pursue a career in Japan?
I have always been attracted to Asia with it’s magical tales and beautiful traditions. Japan has made a big impact on me: Japanese mythology, with it’s magical characters; artists such as Suehiro Maruo, Toshio Saeki, Araki, Hajime Sorayama, Shintaro Kago, and Yamamato Takato. It definitely feels like my so-called third eye opened here.
Why are you keen on exploring concepts of taboos and “illusions, poisoned beauty, death, fear and subconscious fantasies” in your art?
I have personally always been close to this aesthetic. I could watch several horror films a day when I was a kid. For me those concepts are like a dance of emotions on the edge.
How do you go about creating one of your self-portraits?
My self-portraits are usually born when my imagination urgently needs to get rid of pictures that are stuck in my head. At such moments, I use myself as an instrument on both sides of the camera. Sometimes it’s just like bright visual sketches of my fantasies, and sometimes I fill them with an idea that is close to me at that moment.
Your self-portraiture transforms you into a wonderful and futuristic creature. Is this your true self?
The true self is a very complex definition. I definitely see myself in each of these characters. It is more a picture of my fantasies, emotions, thoughts and feelings at the moment when an idea is born. And sometimes my demons and dark sides. Portraying it through myself, I kind of release it through the art.
What does beauty mean to you?
It is definitely energy that comes from within. The aesthetics of my art expresses an unusual, dark, and poisonous beauty, but it doesn’t stop me from seeing beauty in the most ordinary things around me.
What sort of message or feeling do you wish to convey to your audience with your art?
The only one thing I really want from people looking at my works is to feel something.
I want people to sense beauty and become infatuated, to experience epiphany, feel fear or even disgust.
What are some of the challenges you face as a creative?
The specificity of my aesthetics limits the number of people who understand it. So I don’t often have enough creative freedom in projects. Especially in Japan, it seems the industry is not yet ready to move away from kawaii images. But I choose quality over quantity.
What is your dream collaboration?
I’m incredibly inspired by special makeup artists Isamaya Ffrench and Sarah Sitkin. And musicians like Bjork, Arca, FKA twigs, Grimes, Kelsey Lu. Drag queen Hungry and duet Fecal Matter are very unique artists and I hope to work with them one day.
You also work with NYLON magazine. Can you tell us a bit about that?
They are a young and creative team, we’ve made a lot of interesting shoots together and they are not afraid of my bright colors and dark aesthetics. I recently shot Babymetal for their cover and made 4 issues of visual stories about sex and love in their online project Lip Service.
What are your future goals and dreams?
There are many artists and musicians with whom I would like to make collaborations in the future. And my big dream is to open a gallery and show new experimental artists and performances. I feel there are not enough platforms and spaces for the realization of crazy ideas.
Introduction and questions by Vania.
Images courtesy of Yulia Shur.