33.8688° S, 151.2093° E

'You have to have chutzpah, guts or be a little crazy'

Gems in this


Explore Playbook

Gems in
this story

Feature by Interview: Michael Canning, Justin Drape; Words: Michael Canning, Justin Drape

Alina is an interdisciplinary artist you won’t find in any one creative lane, describing herself as “Born in Russia, evolved in Berlin, formed in New York and calling Sydney home”. Her eclectic work covers film, photography, art installations, and collaborations with brands like HBO, Tribeca Film and Universal Music.

In a past life, Alina worked in finance, but followed a passion for storytelling with a global perspective. The resulting career has seen her work with many of the world’s most recognizable faces, from Oscar Winners Alicia Vikander and Emile Sherman to Ewan McGregor, Judith Neilson and Frank Lowy, to name just a handful. We spoke to Alina about creative life and inspiration, from Odessa to Sydney and New York.


On where you’ve lived around the globe

I grew up in Odessa, Russia, which is now Ukraine. It’s a beautiful city that was built around two hundred years ago, and looks like Paris on the Black Sea. My parents moved to Australia in the mid 90s, when I was fourteen. When I left PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and became a photographer, I moved to Germany for a year, then New York for many years, and today I live and work between Sydney and New York.

On who and what is creative

I went to school in Sydney, and then to University of NSW, where I did a Bachelor of Commerce and got a job in tax advisory services for banking and finance at PWC. After my initial experience in the finance world, I decided to leave and do a postgrad in Media Arts at University of Technology, Sydney (UTS). I realised that, professionally, what I really wanted to do is tell stories. I began working in continuity and script supervision in film, and then as a film director and photographer, and today in a combination of several artistic mediums. I believe all people are creative. I think creative people often feel shy about having knowledge of finance, and, on the other side, business people can feel shy about creativity. I think both are creative, and I actually love both worlds (almost) equally.

Above: Actor Michael Shannon photographed by Alina Gozin'a. Below: Alina on set. Alina is represented by Flint Productions and Wentworth Galleries.

On breaking out of your lane

A challenge I’ve experienced in Australia is that there can be a professional expectation and culture in the creative industries of ‘staying in your lane’. For instance, ‘Oh well, you’re a photographer, which means you should stick to taking photos.’ But if you look at inspiring creative people throughout history, from Thomas Jefferson (American statesman, diplomat, lawyer, architect, philosopher, and the third President of the United States) to Virgil Abloh (an American designer, architect, entrepreneur, DJ, artist and the artistic director of Louis Vuitton menswear), they are multi-faceted creative people who don’t limit their creativity to one medium or process at all. 

I don’t believe in staying in your lane. I think we need to strive to see what we can improve, or do new things, and not be scared of that; to not be ashamed to be ambitious. I love the hustle of doing new creative things. In my experience, living in Sydney, the culture here is getting much better at celebrating this kind of healthy ambition. You have to have chutzpah, guts, be a little crazy, or a combination of all to do new, big and inspiring things.

'You have to have chutzpah, guts, be a little crazy, or a combination of all to do new, big and inspiring things.'

On thinking before you click

I have no interest in being nice or producing nice work. I have a great interest in being good and producing better-than-good work. Photographers can sometimes be tempted to shoot as much as they can, have as many options as possible in the editing process. I believe it’s important to think before you click. This is very Russian, but my father would say, ‘Imagine if you have one target, one rifle and one bullet.’ It’s important to connect with the person you’re shooting; they just want to know you’ve got their back.

In my work, I’m attracted to shooting the extremes — either those bathing in the light of success or hidden by the shadows of society. Both interest me in the same way. There is something about the extremes, and it’s very interesting to see so many invisible similarities.

Above: Brenton Thwaites, Ewan McGregor and Alicia Vikander. Below: Damon Herriman photographed for Executive Style Magazine. Photography by Alina Gozin'a.

On preparing for a photo shoot

I never do research on people I work with, I just know about them roughly. I want to tell the best story of the person visually. Images now live forever on the internet, so I feel a responsibility to capture the human being in the best possible way. I think people feel this, and this establishes trust with those I work with. I think everything happens in the first 30 seconds; you don’t have a minute. But once people trust you, they trust you enough to be vulnerable. Naturally, the first thing I do after the shoot is google that person. 

'To be trusted to capture one’s soul and to be part of telling one’s legacy is a privilege.'

On your cover of Judith Neilson

Judith Neilson was just incredible. I shot her for the cover and feature editorial of The Australian Financial Review Magazine, and my goal was to portray Judith as a queen. I’m sick and tired of women being marginalised, such as, ‘You can’t wear a sexy dress and be smart,’ or, ‘You can’t be a billionaire and be a queen.’ Judith doesn’t have to do what she does for the creative industries and communities; she could just retire. But she is so passionate about what she does, what she creates, and makes such an impact. That’s why I wanted to depict her as a queen – like something out of Game of Thrones. To be trusted to capture one’s soul and to be part of telling one’s legacy is a privilege. 

On music and your creative process

Music is vital in my day-to-day life, and a key factor when I shoot. My daily playlist is a mix of rap — old school Biggie Smalls and 2Pac — opera, classical and blues/jazz. I feel I should expand my musical genre but I keep on reverting to the same tracks. When I first arrived in New York, I was getting a coffee at about 3 o’clock in the afternoon. A guy in the coffee shop commented on how I ordered my coffee — I’m a bit specific, shall I say — and we got started chatting about music. I told him I just discovered rap music, which was new for me, with my Russian background and classical music. He asked me if I wanted to listen to some good hip-hop music, and could share some cool places to check out. I didn’t know it at the time, but he ended up being Jarobi White from A Tribe Called Quest. That’s New York!

'I feel New York enables me to create images and artwork which has guts and depth...I don’t need to do ‘polite’ art or live a ‘polite life’.'

On your ‘Harlem Love Stories' Collection

I love this project because I love the African-American culture and the people — so much soul and warmth, it’s like they have lived many lives. In New York, I went to Harlem to hang out and I saw that on Sunday a lot of the local community wear amazing gospel dresses. I’ve always been fascinated by confessions. I would ask people confessional-style questions, like, ‘Tell me about your first love.’ I shot this whole series on the street in Harlem, and it took me two years to create twenty images, because I would just hang out there on the street, meeting the community and shooting portraits.

'Harlem Love Stories' photographic series and public exhibition by Alina Gozin'a.

On what's next and The Disrupter Bureau

I am excited to keep shooting photography, and also to be creating large-scale public art installations, as well as for commercial enterprises and brands; using art to tell their stories and to connect with audiences in a real way. In the last two years, I’ve created my own agency called The Disrupter Bureau, where I’m a co-founder and also an artist, and what we do is activations for companies and brands through public art installations.

On creative inspiration in Sydney

I like to visit White Rabbit Gallery and walk around the area — Chippendale — during the week to get the buzz. I love Sydney city the most; it reminds me of Europe and New York because of the beautiful old buildings. My favourite Saturday routine is to start with a walk through the Art Gallery of New South Wales — it’s small, so it’s a quick walk, but a much needed injection of art. I can’t wait for Sydney Modern to open — it's the best thing to happen to the arts culture in Sydney; it blows my mind just how much opposition this project has had. 

After this, I keep walking through the Botanical Gardens past the Opera House, to the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) and around The Rocks. It’s a stunning walk. From here, you can catch the ferry from Circular Quay to Manly — have lunch there — and back to Circular Quay. This whole experience takes three to four hours; it’s the best way to decompress.

Above from L to R: Terry Doe portrait for Twelve Magazine, Vince Colosimo for Good Weekend magazine and portrait of Joel. Below: Former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in New York for Good Weekend Magazine. Photography by Alina Gozin'a.

On a favorite Sydney routine

Every Sunday, I play chess with my father. I suck at it. We either play at the members club in the NSW Art Gallery — sounds fancy, but it’s not — or in the Botanical Gardens. After chess, we walk to The Rocks and I buy him a piece of cake because Mum doesn’t let him.

On good food in Sydney

Rockpool for dinner — no one does meat better than Neil Perry. The restaurant has a stunning grand interior, which feels very old-school New York...but only if you are into ‘fancy’ places. Then head to Newtown for music to finish the night.

'Every Sunday in Sydney I play chess with my father. I suck at it. We either play at the NSW Art Gallery or the Botanical Gardens. After chess, we walk to the Rocks and I buy him a piece of cake because Mum doesn’t let him.'

On creative inspiration in New York

I feel New York enables me to create images and artwork which has guts and depth, as though New York itself says, ‘Do what you think is right, no need to monitor yourself, these incredible larger-than-life people and city will get it.’ I don’t need to do ‘polite’ art or live a ‘polite life’.

The city itself is the biggest inspiration. Every day, no matter what, I’d walk out the door and breathe in New York, and that alone would instantly inspire me. All of it — the diversity, the craziness, the non-apologetic scale of it. I try to walk it as much as I can; walking New York has been the greatest inspiration to me and has resulted in solo exhibitions and bodies of work — The Doormen of New York, Harlem Love Stories, Coney Love, The Last Snow of New York, Confessions of Perth Boys.

My favourite place is West Village, where I lived for a while during my five years in New York, and every time I go back, which is usually twice a year, I can’t help but do the same routine: coffee and baby croissants for breakfast at Buvette, a Parisian restaurant and bar. My favorite spot is a single chair in the narrow tiny window. I watch life from this window and I do my daily reading, which is a mix of art and business articles, and I get a lot of ideas during my breakfast time. During the day, Whitney Museum — hours there feel like a second. Then Chelsea art galleries precinct — the greatest. After dinner, inevitably I end up at Smalls in West Village, sometimes twice a week, even just for a quick stop. It’s a tiny dive jazz bar, known for its amazing roster of musicians, really bad drinks, old dirty toilets and semi-acceptable service, and yet it remains the best! It’s particularly good later in the night, after 2am, when incredible and often famous musicians just drop by and jam together.

Above: 'Coney Love' photographic exhibition 2019. Below: 'The Last Snow of New York' photographic exhibition 2019. Photography by Alina Gozin'a.

On a piece of advice that travels with you

I think the greatest advice I can give is not to react, but to respond. In business and life, I think it’s important not to be reactive but to be responsive.

On flights post Covid-19

Los Angeles and then New York.

On window or aisle


On Sydney in one word

Exercise. (I hear a lot of talk about exercising and I see a lot of people in activewear all day long).

On New York in one word, plus a few more…

New York is like Jack Nicholson and all the characters he has ever played — next-level outrages bigger than life itself. Amazing, fascinating, exciting, inspiring, so sexy and cool.


Related stories & places



‘There's this burst of energy in Sydney where people want to experience the world around them.’