Meet: Antonina Mamzenko, Family Photographer, Solo Mom Traveler | The Expedition
Antonina Mamzenko photographer

Meet: Antonina Mamzenko, Family Photographer, Solo Mom Traveler

She never set out to be a photographer.

When Antonina Mamzenko was growing up, her father had a darkroom in the family’s apartment in St. Petersburg, Russia. She was more interested in reading books and making up stories in her head. But in 2005, Antonina­—then a lawyer—moved to London and discovered her “soul country.” She traveled around the U.K., taking photographs of landscapes and street scenes.

“I never thought I would photograph people, because I’m quite shy and introverted,” she said. Today, she is a family photographer known for her photojournalistic work—the opposite of posed pictures. She is also a single mom and loves to travel with her 9-year-old son Alexander, who is home educated. 

“Many people are surprised that I’m able to work and homeschool,” she said. “But it allows me to be very flexible and schedule work and travel around my son’s needs.”

She shared her secret for homeschooling and road-tripping at the same time, the destination she learned to love, and—of course—how to take better travel photos of your family.

One of my favorite spots in London for family photographs is…

the South Bank, across the riverside from Big Ben and the Tower of London. It’s a couple of hours’ walk with the kids and you see all the wonderful sites. If you want pictures that scream “London!” without having to go to several different locations, that’s the place. You can go through Borough Market and get some food, there’s a couple of playgrounds along the way—and cafes, in case someone gets hungry and needs a coffee or hot chocolate. It’s always helpful when you have kids.

The first trip I ever took was…

when I was three or four months old and we went on a plane to see my grandparents. I think I caught the travel bug then and it was the running joke in my family that I was very well traveled for a child growing up in the Soviet Union in the 80s! My family spent summers going to the south of the Soviet Union and I remember spending days on the top bunk of a train just looking at the world go by. It was the best thing ever.

I decided to homeschool my son because…

There are so many reasons, and they evolve over time, but one of them is that it gives us flexibility of lifestyle and of learning on our own terms like school never can. I value education a lot, but I think these days we have all the tools that we need at our fingertips—the internet is full or resources and you can learn anywhere. When I decided not to send my son to school I told myself I’d try it and if it didn’t work out, he would go. But five years later it’s still working out.

I don’t know why it’s called homeschooling…

because we’re never home, at least until this year. We take a more unschooling approach—we go to museums, parks, and clubs, and learn organically.

My favorite destinations are…

Menorca, New York and Iceland. They’re all so different—it just tells you everything you need to know about me. Menorca is this tiny island next to Mallorca and Ibiza in Spain, with a lot of small beaches and prehistoric sites, we’ve been three times now and we love it. New York wasn’t love at first sight for me: It felt really busy and loud, London multiplied by 10. But then it just sucks you in. Iceland is just magical, it’s like a whole other world altogether—a bit like Scotland which I also love.

Unless you know how to control a professional camera properly, it won’t make much of a difference to your photographs.

My best advice for taking travel photos is…

not to focus on getting a pretty picture, like, “Here’s us standing in front of this landmark.” Try to capture how it felt in the moment, sprinkle a bit of reality in there. Maybe your child completely melted down in front of the Eiffel Tower, or hated the idea of swimming in the sea. Capture that. It may not be funny right now, but it’s going to be something you’d want to remember and laugh about a few years down the line.

Also, there always that one person that takes all the pictures. Make sure you ask your other half or strangers to take some of you too. You don’t want your kids asking later, “Why didn’t you come on any holidays with us?”

To take great photos, you don’t need…

a big, fancy camera. The best camera is the one you have with you, and most phones are pretty advanced these days. Plus, unless you know how to control a professional camera properly, it won’t make much of a difference to your photographs. It will be more of a hindrance than a help, and could even end up distracting you from your holiday.

Our favorite way to travel is…

road trips. I love just going with the flow, taking random turns and exploring on a whim.

One of my best tips for traveling with kids is…

listening to podcasts. That gets us through a lot of road trips, and it doubles as homeschool too! Our favorites right now are “Brains On!” and “But Why.”

I’m finding my feet with…

traveling as a single mom. It’s been interesting, especially with road trips. But I’m leaning that I can do things myself. I can call for roadside assistance if I have to. I can learn to pitch up a tent—or I can buy the one that just pops up!

I’d like to get from The Expedition…

just the community. Having like-minded people in all corners of the globe and exchanging ideas and being inspired by other people’s ways of traveling.

I can help other members with…

anything to do with London and photography. And I know Russia can be an intimidating place, especially if you don’t know the language or the culture. People can message me—I’m really happy to help.

Sara Clemence is a freelance journalist, formerly travel editor for The Wall Street Journal and news director for Travel + Leisure. She's the author of Away & Aware, a guide to mindful travel.

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