On the other side of the lens

4/21/2006 – For two years now she has been providing us with photos. Her chess photobase has grown to around 2,000 high quality shots (of which she claims to like just about ten). Her dream is to make series of styled shots of the best world chess players. But before she could achieve this dream she herself was the subject of a photo shoot. Meet the remarkable Ms Boytsun.

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The photo shoot

WIM Olena Boytsun lives in Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine, and works in the field of children's education and the benefits of the game of chess for disabled children, especially deaf children. Since September 2005 she has a column of chess stories in "Uchtishka", a popular Ukrainian magazine for children. Olena is a regular contributor of the ChessBase news page. She is also completing a PhD in Economics (subject: "The influence of financial liberalization on economic growth") at the International Finance Department of Dnipropetrovsk National University. She also teaches courses on marketing, financial globalization, the history of economic theories and economic development at Dnipropetrovsk University. Next month she will be on a study and lecture tour in Germany. Oh, yes, she is 23 years old.

Alexander Linkevich is one of the best fashion photographers in Ukraine. Recently he offered to do a photo session with the photographer Olena. Six and a half hours of work, and 300 photos later she had at last a full understanding of how hard the process is. "It is not that much fun as it seemed to me to be on the other side of the lens!"

"Alexander Linkevich," says Olena, "is a nice young man who tells you stories about his wife and his life, while you are balancing on the eight cm high stilettos, smiling brightly behind a chess set. Alexander knew nothing about chess at the beginning of the session. In the end he felt he was a strong FIDE master."

Linkevich started with a holding-the-camera series. Olena became so interested in making close-up photos of the chess pieces that she felt disturbed when Alexander kept asking her to look at his camera.

When Alexander saw Olena dressed in black he worried that the photos would not be "rich in content". She reminded him about the black-and-white theme of chess and he suddenly decided: "Okay, then you are the black queen." There followed a heated discussion. Olena thought it quite inappropriate for the black queen to be dressed in a short black skirt and high boots. And holding a business case. "With the power the queen possesses the only appropriate clothing would be a tight satin tunic. The way I am dressed projects more of a female 'black bishop' image. Actually the black bishop from the Pirz-Ufimzev Defence, which stands a lot on the g7 square and does nothing but wait. This bishop also doesn't move a lot usually, which is good if you wear high heels. But it still controls the situation from its hidden position, which is always good."


The shawl is supposed to symbolize the drape of photographers from the past

Then it was time to work with a chess set. The photo session was in Kiev, and Olena had brought a chess board with her from Dnipropetrovsk.

This chess set was a present from Olena's grandfather, Sazonov Evgeniy, who was her first teacher and still insists that she need to continue with her chess lessons. She got it when she was eight year old, back in 1991. "At that time the Soviet Union had collapsed," she says. "I remember how my family gathered together around the TV set to watch the latest news from Moscow. Actually, all families in the USSR did so that time. I sat on the floor near the TV, playing with this chess set, and understood, of course, nothing. This chess board and the pieces have been with me from that time. I am a very loyal person."

"I am convinced that in order for the photo to be successful it is necessary for it to be natural," says Olena. "Posing spoils photos, as well as to create the feeling that you are looking at the camera, not at the person."

One of the techniques Alexander and his assistant Masha used was to crazy up Olena a bit, to stop her from posing. For example, she had a lot of badges from various events and places, so they put them all on her, just to get different expressions.

"At one moment," Olena tells us, "the photographer picked up the German chess magazine Schach and started to read loudly from my article about the Ukrainian Championship in the magazine. I sat on the ground listening to him, and he kept taking pictures. That is the technique they use."

Olena writes chess stories for the children's magazine "Uchtishka", which is published every month for Ukraine, Russia and Byelorussia. For this she needed some natural "childlike" shots. Black was not the appropriate colour, a flowery dress and bright blouse were.

The thing that characterises a girl is her bag. Olena always carries one with a small mirror, a note pad and a chess set. Alexander filled it with the chess pieces from her grandfather.

"I like the last photo we did," says Olena. "It is quite natural, although thinking of it, what can be more unnatural than someone in Ukraine sitting at a table covered with chess pieces and cameras, in an evening dress, reading Vogue Magazine in Spanish. However, it captures exactly my world."

Photographer: Alexander Linkevich
Photographer's assistant: Masha Gnatovska
Styled by Olena Boytsun

No chess player was hurt during the shots. Three new people learnt the rules of the game.

Interview with Olena Boytsun

By Sergey Shtepa (photos by Olena Boytsun)

At what age did you start to play chess?

I don't know. My first certificate for winning something like "the championship of the Lenin Park for children aged under ten" is dated 1989. It means I was six years old. I started my chess career playing with chess pieces as if they were dolls. I still believe that is the best way to get a child interested in the game, although a lot of trainers don't support my point of view.


Young chess fans at the opening ceremony of the
Efim Geller Memorial (Odessa, July 2005)

What is chess for you – hobby, business or a combination of useful things with pleasant ones?

Let's try to systemize. On the one hand, I am currently a Women International Master with a last rating of 2281. I have been inactive for a couple of years as a player, so I cannot say I am a professional player, although sometimes I feel I am even stronger now than I was. However, I remain active in the chess field. Amongst other things I work on chess projects for children; in most cases I act within my NGO (non-governmental organization), which means I get no reimbursement for it. On the other hand I am employed at the Dnipropetrovsk National University, International Finance Department, as a teacher and a PhD student. So I am probably more of an economist with a good chess background than a chess player with a Masters in International Economics.

Name your favorite books, films, songs? What attracts you in them? What kind of genres do you prefer?

They would be really long lists. I would like to keep this information for the future, I think? Instead, could we put some of my favourite chess photos from my archive into this article? [Accepted!]


Sergey Karjakin at lunch (Amsterdam, January 2005)

Name three chess idols – people, whom you respect not only as professional chess players, but also as personalities

I respect chess players in general. This profession is very difficult. Anyone who chooses the profession of a chess player needs to have a strong personality already.

Idols – this is probably too strong. I can give you chess names, people who influenced me in my chess studies. As a teacher I would definitely say Mikhail Botvinnik. As active players it was Garry Kasparov, Vladimir Kramnik and Veselin Topalov. My grandfather Evgeniy Sazonov was my teacher, who collected games for my preparation. More than ten years ago he was defining Kramnik and Topalov as brilliant players.


Vladimir Kramnik (Dortmund, July 2005)

What are your favorite activities, besides chess, of course?

I enjoy writing, speaking, reading, styling and smiling.

What languages do you speak?

My mother tongues are Ukrainian and Russian. I speak fluent English and German, am intermediate in Spanish (enough for reading Vogue without a dictionary, but not "El coronel no tiene quien le escriba"), passive knowledge of Dutch (I adore the country). I know also the ABC of Russian signing language.


Young chess fan at Mtel Masters (Sofia, May 2005)

What is it like to train every day, to play constantly, to work for a goal and, actually, to transform your life into one very long chess tournament?

I took my chess preparations during my childhood very seriously, and trained for five hours a day. But I still cannot say I did only chess. I had the normal life of a normal child. The regular preparation trains a child to work systematically. Traveling to chess tournaments was also very exciting, but I never missed school.


Chess fan at the closing ceremony of the Pivdenniy Bank
Efim Geller Memorial (Odessa, July 2005)

Which of your games do you remember most of all and why? Have you shown it to your friends, were you proud of a combination or the brilliant positional solution?

I have problems trying to remember such situations, so I will tell you about three games with different results. One was a game I played in the office of the German Embassy in Ukraine in July 2005, while I was getting a visa to Germany (I told the story in a video interview in ChessBase Magazine).


Participant in the Wijk aan Zee tournament

The second game was a draw in my hometown. I came to the school for deaf children and spoke to the director about the possibility of chess lessons for children, and the implementation of a teaching method. Some children there were able to play already, so they asked me to play a game against their strongest player. I drew it with perpetual check. Who would say I did a wrong thing?


Aruna Anand is always reading books during chess tournaments (Dortmund, July 2004)

The third is a loss to Veselin Topalov. It was a blitz game on the rest day during Dortmund Sparkassen Chess Meeting. On that day each of the super-grandmasters faced ten amateurs and journalists. You know, when you get a chance to play against a top grandmaster you think "Oh my, it would be so great to draw. It can't be that difficult". If you are feeling brave you may think: "Or I can win, who knows". In the end I was smashed, and I could only think: "Well, at least Veselin hasn't written a monograph on financial globalization yet". I don't remember the game itself, but later some strong grandmaster told me that Topalov played a solid main line, which was a sign of respect.


Veselin Topalov (Dortmund, July 2005)

I have chosen these three examples to illustrate a thought: chess is a social activity. Even if you cannot play, you can enjoy chess as a social event.

Thank you for your answers! Good luck in all your endeavours

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