Florence Gallez

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Interview by John Harrison

Belgian Florence Gallez lived in Moscow for 8 years and worked mainly in the media. She left to do an MA at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and discovered her true love – photography. She recently held an exhibition ‘Flow and Reflections’ at the Gallery at Mosfilm, and more exhibitions are on the horizon.

When did you come to Russia, and what did you do as a journalist here?

I lived in Moscow from May 1999 and I left in August 2008. I worked as a journalist and as a reporter for the Moscow Times. I wrote articles about business, culture and science. Then I became editor of the Business Review, which was a colour supplement of the paper. After that, I worked as the Moscow correspondent for the Washington-based BNA which stands for the Bureau of National Affairs on a freelance basis for two years. Then I did some production work for the CNN Moscow bureau. After that I decided to extend my skills and explore new territory, that’s when I did my masters degree in comparative media studies at MIT. That was when I took my very first class in photography and very soon I decided that instead of writing long articles and editing, I will try to tell the Russian – and other stories – through pictures. My editors often told me that my articles were too long. I kept thinking of the phrase: ‘a picture is worth 1000 words.’ There is a lot of truth in that.

Ideally I would like to move into documentary photography because that’s what I like the most. The best situation is to be independent because you can choose your own stories. I like to set things in a static framework, I hope that doesn’t sound too pretentious but I call this art photography. That’s why I prefer to do black-and-white because it’s more beautiful. A great thing to do would be to come to Russia, not just to Moscow. But when I was working 15 hours a day as an editor, I didn’t travel much although I did get to go to St Petersburg. I went on the Trans-Siberian once, but I didn’t have a lot of time so I was unable to spend time at the other end or stop at all the different places on the way to China.

I’d love to show more of Russia to the West especially some of the positive things because they are so rarely seen in the western press. For example the Olympics was really amazing, and there are a lot of very beautiful things going on here that aren’t reported on.

You just held an exhibition here at the Gallery at Mosfilm. What was the exhibition about?

It was called ‘Flow and Reflections’, ‘Flow’ referring to the first three letters of my name. The exhibition covered the countries that mean something to me, namely Cuba, and more specifically Havana, where I did some photography with Peter Turnley, a famous American photojournalist. I did some more work with him in New York, a city I love, not least because I got the opportunity to photograph the dance community there. I took some dance classes there and love to dance. I really like the community there, and I’m going back there this summer to do some more photography. Then of course my home city Brussels, where I always go back to. There were also some photographs from Moscow taken in the late 90s in the exhibition.

How does Moscow seem like to you now?

I came back here after six years in November of last year. It was quite a shock. I felt like a tourist, although I missed Russia in the same way that you miss your home town. I had to get used to the Russian ways again, but that didn’t take long. What was interesting was that at first, I saw Moscow from a foreigner’s point of view, and it seems to be doing really well, in comparison to many western cities. But I am not sure about the rest of the country.

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