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The philosophical intersection of photography and web development

2022-10-28

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by Charlotte Weston

Throughout his various careers as a translator, librarian, journalist, print designer, and now front-end web developer at Catalyst, two things have held steady for Serge Seva. His love for art, and the way his curiosity and interests have led him to many self-taught hobbies and jobs.

Medieval library in Lithuania

The medieval library at Vilnius University of Lithuania, where Serge worked as a librarian after completing his masters degree in linguistics and philosophy.

Originally from Lithuania, Serge landed in Christchurch a few weeks before Christmas sixteen years ago, and began looking for work to meet his visa requirements: anything design-related. Every morning he got up and knocked on doors, sent his CV out. Eventually, he says, “I got an invitation for an interview which was in Timaru, and I thought it was one of the districts of Christchurch.” It took a month before they came back to him with a job offer, during which time he would call almost every day. “I didn’t want to go back to Lithuania,” he says. “I burned all my bridges, deliberately, I gave myself no chances to go back.”

Outside view of the historic Vilnius University with pink flowers in the foreground and a blue sky with clouds

The historic Vilnius University of Lithuania.

That job, with the Timaru Herald, was where Serge first started coding. “I was always wondering how UI is rendered on the screen. I understood how it was done in printing, but I didn’t understand how it was done on the screen.” So he asked a friend who was a developer, and this friend showed Serge HTML. Serge’s interest in how the building blocks of the web are laid together continued as he taught himself HTML and CSS, working on small development tasks for the Timaru Herald. He made an app that would respond in email with tick boxes to clients if something had been completed or was still going.

Portrait of Serge Seva leaning on a railing with trees behind him.

Serge Seva

Then he decided to leave Timaru. When first deciding which country he would like to move to, Serge had gone through beautiful photos of New Zealand, seen pictures of palm trees, and thought it was a tropical climate. So he was surprised by winter in Timaru. “I didn’t want to live in a crowded place, and wanted a more relaxed lifestyle, with access to the sea. This turned out to be true in lots of aspects, it just wasn’t as warm as I thought. Outside is fine, but Europeans build very warm houses, and I still can’t get used to cold houses.”

Serge’s dream was to live in Wellington and work in the web industry, so he left his job in Timaru and moved to Wellington to do a Yoobee course in web development. On the day Serge got his certificate in 2011, he got a job at the Wellington City Council as a coder, and has been doing front-end development since then.

A black and white photo of a man at a restaurant with a waiter handing him a menu and a glass of water

Menu, Please by Serge Seva

Serge’s true passion as a teenager was painting, and although he didn’t pursue a career in painting his interest in fine arts remains. These days his medium of choice is the photograph. “I went to Inverlochy classes after work, which was hard because painting is an exhausting practice. I still have an eye for composition, for light, and that’s what I try to mimic, to substitute my painter’s ability with photography. I went from painting on canvas to painting on the sensor.”

The self-taught thread that runs through Serge’s life came out to play again with photography. He studied the technicalities of cameras, started experimenting and taking photos. First, he tried to replicate things that fascinated him in other pictures: silky water, micro photography, portraiture, landscape. Eventually he figured out that the most interesting form for him is street photography.

“I like wide angle lens. I like getting close to the subject and getting more in the frame than with telephotos. You have to get close with a wide angle lens; it gives you the opportunity to compose, to play a lot with geometry.” Street photography deals with mostly cities and urban life, and Serge captures city scenes at home and while travelling. “I like the intricacies of cities, the game I play with shadows, waiting for people to come into frame.”

A black and white image of a skater with a facade in the background that has a triangle shape, reflected in the skater's posture.

Triangularity by Serge Seva.

Serge talks about two styles of street photography: fishing and hunting. “Fishing is when you find the composition and you wait for someone to enter the frame. You wait for the moment, sometimes successful, sometimes not.” Whereas on the other hand, “hunting is when you just go with your camera, looking and sensing an opportunity for an exclusive shot. You need to have an immediate reaction, because a split second means a lot.” He describes it as an adventure, going through the streets and looking for the moment Henri Cartier-Bresson, pioneer and master of the street photography genre, called the decisive moment.

“You develop a different vision, so you’re not just someone wandering and looking for beautiful things. You train yourself to see something, even trivial things, that you don’t see in your ordinary life.” Serge calls it the development of the third eye – without the spiritual aspect. Looking through things, finding the meaning that is hidden. He shoots in black and white, which provides an opportunity to focus on tonality, which is where the light shines. “You eliminate the overload of meanings that colours bring. Less distraction, more concentrated. Lots of things become punchier.”

Black and white photo of a dimly lit hallway looking out a window at a mural that shows the eyes and top of head of a clown.

Insider by Serge Seva.

Throughout his career and photography work, open source is a repeating motif. “When you compare to closed systems like corporate culture where everything is sealed and enclosed and enforced, you start understanding the freedom open source brings. You see it is a different way of dealing with the world.”

A paved street with a woman walking towards the camera and another walking away. A bicycle is leaning against a wall in the right of the image

Dance class by Serge Seva.

“My photography is also open source; it’s the idea of sharing anything I do for free.” When people ask Serge if they can use his photo, he tells them they can use it for free. “I’ve always thought if I start making photos for the market, that’ll be it. My concentration, my energy would go a different way. I want a niche place, something I do for myself. As soon as you start taking money for photos you lose the magic. I keep it as a sacred thing.” Serge acknowledges that his paid work as a front-end developer supports both the photography itself (“I like Leica, and it is expensive”), and the open sharing of it. “It’s in our human nature to show and share our work. We wouldn’t survive as human beings if we didn’t share.”

The Catalyst open source ethos is an ideal fit for Serge’s inclination towards sharing and community. “The open source community is so dynamic, so open. It’s marvellous. From a philosophical point of view I’m totally with open source, and to the scale Catalyst operates with. I’m not a fan of closed systems and imposing things on the client.”

Serge’s photographs have multiple times been featured in the Leica Fotografie International gallery, including the two below.

A black and white landscape photo with a line of black hills in the background and blurry water around rocks in the foreground.

Whiterock by Serge Seva.

A black and white photo of tall city buildings with reflections in the shiny street below, and in the foreground is a large poster of a ballet dancer in midair.

Fall of Icarus by Serge Seva.

View a slideshow of Serge’s work on YouTube. You can follow him on Instagram, and see more photos on Flickr.