The bright side
Colour and adventure are the joint driving forces on Alina Rudya’s road to professional success
In 1986, when she was just a year old, Alina Rudya and her family were evacuated from Pripyat, a small town in what was then the Soviet Union, about 3km from the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. Her father was working as an engineer at the plant on the night when the nuclear reactor exploded. The family settled in Kiev, which became the capital of Ukraine after the Soviet Union collapsed, and Alina’s father began travelling between Russia and the US for work. One day, he brought home American issues of National Geographic.
“I was nine and I remember the first issues I saw,” she says. “All those photographers and journalists who actually travelled the world taking pictures and telling stories about wonderful places. It was really, really exciting and I knew I wanted to do that. My father was a nuclear physicist by trade but also an amateur photographer, so we had so many cameras at home and a dark room. My father showed me how to take pictures.”
Along with the glossy magazines and the love of photography, Alina’s father also gave her the ideas that adventures could be real. To a little girl born in Soviet Russia, far-off places like Jordan or Iceland were a dream. But as she got older, she understood that she could work hard to turn the fantasy into reality.
“I was always taught by my parents, and especially my father, to have the self-confidence to go after the things I wanted,” she says, “and that girls are not just pretty-faced princesses. I think this is very important for women.” It was no coincidence that the books her father gave her to help her learn English included The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain and Captain Courageous by Rudyard Kipling. Entranced by such stories, Alina set her sights on her future, but single-mindedness can be a double-edged sword. “Being told you can do whatever you want sets a very high standard,” she admits. “I always expect so much of myself. If something doesn’t happen, I get very, very frustrated. I always want everything to succeed. That’s a big pressure I put on myself.”
Enticed by Germany’s exciting and progressive arts scene, Alina moved to Berlin as a young adult to study photography at Lette Verein Arts College. During her studies she spent a semester at Parsons School of Design in New York, which shifted her ideas about what a career in photography could be. “It changed my perspective about so many things,” she says. “I saw a different side of the art world, one more competitive than in Germany. The American way really modulates people to work hard. Berlin is still quite relaxed in this respect. New York is so expensive, so if you’re not successful then you cannot survive, but in Berlin you can still get an affordable apartment so there is less pressure to go straight into a career.”
Aged 28, she was a working photographer building an impressive portfolio, mainly in documentary. In 2016, to mark the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, Alina returned to Pripyat – a ghost town in the Chernobyl exclusion zone – with a group of fellow evacuees to make a documentary photo essay about the city that was lost to them. The resulting book, Pripyat Mon Amour, was an instant success.
She considers her documentary and artistic portfolio to be one side of her photographic life. The other, her commercial work, has grown after she began posting her travel stories on Instagram. Since then, Mercedes-Benz, Samsung and Absolut have become clients. Two years ago, she was made a Nikon Ambassador in Germany and her carry-on now includes a Nikon Z 6 and Z 7. “I switched to mirrorless because it’s light,” she says, adding with a laugh, “It’s very convenient for women! I will admit that for a heavier kit, muscle power is a thing.”
Her relationship with Instagram has not always been positive. Frustrated by the representation of female travel photographers on social media, Alina started the Bell Collective, an online community of female travel photographers challenging the gender stereotypes of women who travel. “It’s totally OK to be photographed being pretty and sipping cocktails,” says Alina, “but I don’t want this to be the only representation of women travellers, and it’s not how I wanted to be treated professionally.”
The name of her group suggests the alarm call of a ringing bell, and is also a salute to pioneering anthropologist and traveller Gertrude Bell, perhaps the original female travel influencer. In the first instance, Alina contacted female photographers she had met in person plus others she knew through Instagram. The collective now includes 14 professional travel photographers representing different styles from architectural and abstract to portrait. “We published our book, Bell Collective, last year,” says Alina, “I hope it inspires a lot of girls and young women to pursue photography in an individualist way.”
With plans to expand the collective in the future, to grow its podcast series, to stay ahead of the game in her commercial work and to remain connected to her first love, documentary photography, Alina is setting the bar for success very high. “I think if you’re really excited by something, if you’re really passionate about something, you should find a way to do it and if you do it well, then something will come out of it.”
“I’ve always shot with Nikon and always loved doing so. Among other things, the sound of the shutter is really great!” Alina was made a German Nikon Ambassador in 2018.
The Z 6 and the Z 7, and for lenses the NIKKOR Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S, NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/4 S and the NIKKOR Z 35mm f/1.8 S.
I’d love to have the NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.2 S which would be awesome for portraits.
NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/4 S
NIKKOR Z 35mm f/1.8 S
On a shoot in Cyprus, Alina was so inspired by the hairstylist’s look she put her in front of the camera
Z 6, NIKKOR Z 35mm f/1.8 S, ISO 200, 1/5000 sec @ f/2.8
“Iceland always surprises me with its natural wonders, like this basalt canyon,
which emerged recently after a dam was built and the river level dropped”
Z 6, AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR, ISO 400, 1/3200 sec @ f/2.8
“The architectural layering of Porto, Portugal was really satisfying to shoot with the 70-200mm lens”
Z 7, NIKKOR Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S, ISO 100, 0.4 sec @ f/5.6
Anya Verbitska, Berlin, April 2020
Z 6, NIKKOR Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S, ISO 400, 1/640 sec @ f/2.8
Alina’s Z 7 capturedall the colour on a shoot in Burano, Italy
Z 7, NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/4 S, ISO 800, 1/8000 sec @ f/4
“I love finding cinematic situations and colorful street scenes”
Z 6, NIKKOR Z 35mm f/1.8 S, ISO 400, 1/500 sec @ f/1.8