MOSCOW, Oct. 7, 2009 -- A wide shot of a rising moon, a macro close-up of an icy branch and flames dancing in the darkness are a small taste of the photos in a large collection of personal photography by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev the Kremlin has posted online.
Releasing photos of presidents, prime ministers and kings during their personal time is a practice long used to make a country feel closer to their leader. The White House updates its Flickr feed regularly with pictures of President Barack Obama with his family or playing basketball with his staff. Shots of Russia's bare-chested Prime Minister Vladimir Putin riding a horse on vacation this summer went viral, helping cultivate his tough guy persona.
But Medvedev is taking the behind-the-scenes philosophy a step farther, turning the camera around and sharing the results of his hobby with Russians as part of a larger effort by the Kremlin to make him appear open and accessible.
The "personal photography" albums are divided into Summer, Winter, inside Russia and abroad. Rolling landscapes, aerial views and walks in the forest are a central theme.
Many of the photos are taken during vacations -- giraffes during a safari, the Sphinx with the pyramids of Giza in the background. The gallery's homepage has a shot of Medvedev on the back of a speeding boat with a camera and telephoto lens in hand, looking out to sea, perhaps pondering what he can snap next.
Two-time photography Pulitzer Prize winner Sasha Zemlianichenko says Medvedev has an eye.
"He understands light, the pictures show. There's a very nice color balance," he says, adding that the range of pictures "demonstrates that he tries to experiment with different situations and light effects."
Once on a presidential trip, Zemlianichenko says Medvedev asked him about his Canon camera because he was disappointed with the results from his Nikon. Whether Zemlianichenko's endorsement of Canon had an effect is unclear, but Medvedev is now pictured with a professional Canon on the site.
Medvedev Likes Photoshop
Zemlianichenko also says Medvedev has not been shy asking for tips from other photographers and the detail in his questions shows an impressive grasp of the art. That said, Zemlianichenko's favorite photo isn't one of the more artistic ones, but a shot of a small white church and cross at the foot of a hill by the sea. "It's very simple to understand," he says.
The professional notes that the amateur's busy schedule has crept into his photography. His sunsets are "ok, but not good enough." To shoot a good sunset, Zemlianichenko says, you have to wait patiently for the sun to be in the right position or for other elements, such as rain.
Medvedev's photography doesn't stop with the click of the camera -- he toys with effects on his beloved Mac afterwards. To the point where a Russian blog sarcastically captioned an altered sunset, "Medvedev discovers Photoshop/LSD/another planet."
Russians traditionally respect a strongman quality in their leaders, something Putin exudes and has bolstered with his carefully stage-managed outdoors adventure-themed photo-ops. It has certainly helped him maintain a higher approval rating than Medvedev.
But lest Russians think their yoga-loving, blogging, landscape photographer of a president is soft, he tries to make up for it by regularly being photographed touring military bases, holding big automatic rifles and generally appearing commander-in-chiefy.