Dmitry ARKHIPOV, who is the head of a leading game software company in Russia founded in 1993, discusses his love of hiking, his opinions on creative photography, and how journeys help reveal a person’s true colors.
Is it true that your hobby led to the foundation of your company?
I have enjoyed hiking ever since I was a student in the 80s. My kith were very close, and we would float along some of the most difficult mountain rivers and go hiking in the mountains for many years together. And at some point during those years, “perestroika” occurred, which was when we decided that it would be a good idea to create a business based on our hobbies. We had two in particular: video games and sports tourism. The first company, which we established in 1991, was within the tourist industry – we took a group of German tourists into the wild Siberian taiga. Overall, the experience was quite funny, even if it included too much of the taiga’s savageness. But many years later, the Germans called it one of the most impressive journeys of their lives. And the experiences were memorable for us as well. But after that first trip, we decided to try doing business with a different hobby of ours.
What spurred that decision? Did tourism turn out to be too complicated as a business venture?
Yes, we broke down after that first try. After three weeks of bad weather, everyone – the three Russian instructors, myself included, and our 12 German wards – grew tired of one another. Eventually, we decided that it would be easier to make money using a different method. We realized that preparing special routes was very difficult, Russia had very short summers, which meant fewer customers for us, and we only made enough money to cover our expenses. So we decided to work on developing computer games. And some of the people who formed the backbone of our fellows became the founders of the company. Originally, there were six of us, but three of them left.
Are there any habits that help you manage the company when you have to deal with your other vice presidents, who also happen to be old friends?
We trust each other, and we have trusted each other for a long time now. We have a mutual understanding, a mutual desire to assist one another, and a very clear division of labor and areas of responsibility.
What about joint hiking? Do you still do it together?
Sometimes I travel with Vladimir Kudr, another vice president of the company, but in general, we try to always have someone in our offices to “look after the company”. Although I cannot say that I play the part of the tourist as often anymore. Over the past twenty years, that one hobby has evolved a lot, and one of the most interesting things I do now is landscape photography. I enjoy going to wild and inaccessible places very much, where I can take pictures of places that hardly anyone will ever see in real life.
What sets your passion for photography apart from any other tourist, who just clicks the buttons on their cameras?
I discovered the digital format in the late 1990s, but when digital photography first appeared, the quality of film itself was inferior. So I started doing some panoramic photography. The matrix resolution was not enough for large format photographs, so instead, I mastered a technique where the final image was formed by combining a couple of frames instead of just one. This technique is a really strong point of mine, and I bring home hundreds of gigabytes of pictures after every trip – it takes me hours to browse through them all and start “putting the puzzle together”. In order to make just one picture, it is sometimes necessary to use several dozen original photographs, which naturally takes quite a lot of time. My weeks of traveling to remote places alternate with the weeks I spent editing and creating on my computer. I recently returned from the United States, where I spent some time on the coast of Oregon. It is a very interesting place, with a raging ocean and huge waves that crash against the rocky shore splendidly. And right now, I am working on photographs from that trip.
And how many countries are included in your “photo gallery”?
I have visited 104 countries so far, and sometimes on my trips, something completely unexpected happens. The year before last, I went on a very interesting expedition to Pakistan, where we went to the foot of the K2, the second highest peak in the Karakorum. On the way back, we got caught in a great Pakistani flood and had to pass through the “disaster zone”, where we saw a lot of very interesting and unbelievable things. And not long ago, I travelled across the Libyan Sahara desert – I was lucky enough to fly back home just one day before the Libyan Civil War broke out.
Do you have any upcoming plans?
We are going to be travelling to the north of Norway in the near future, and in autumn, I am planning to participate in a very interesting expedition that I am waiting for very impatiently. We are going to South Georgia, which is a remote island in the South Atlantic Ocean near Antarctica. It is almost a remote “center”, and it is said to capture the quintessential essence of Antarctica very well. I have been to Antarctica before – it is a really great continent, but it is very inconvenient to moor to due to the approaching ice. South Georgia, on the other hand, is an island with its own mountain range, which stretches close to 800 kilometers long, and it is home to huge penguin and seal colonies. It is very difficult to get there as well, because airplanes do not fly there, naturally. So we will be sailing there. I also want to combine this trip with a trip to the Chilean Patagonia National Park, Torres del Paine.
How many people are going to be accompanying you?
Well, we have a fairly large company sailing to South Georgia, close to 60 people. And we are planning to rent an ice-class ship to get there. But Torres del Paine is a different story – apparently, only two people are going to be visiting the park, myself included.
Have you ever been disappointed with a person after a certain trip or journey?
Yes. A person that seems decent in real life can sometimes divulge their personalities in a very negative way when they are faced with extreme circumstances. For natural reasons, we do not take these people on any of our other trips.
And what do you think about holding business training sessions in the wild?
Well, I think the idea, of course, is very interesting. But it is a very artificial kind of adventure. Being in a fake situation where there is very little danger for two to three days is not the best way, in my opinion, to achieve the proper psychological effect.
How often do you travel?
I try to organize a “photo-travel trip” 6-7 times a year where I travel long distances. But the limit is 8, or a total maximum of 10 weeks.
How much time do you spend planning out your travels? Do you plan everything yourself, or do you use travel agency services to help you out?
No, I never use travel agencies. Usually I plan everything myself, and sometimes I join somebody else’s trip. There are some people, for example, who guide specific photo tours. Of course, planning out a trip depends quite a lot of the goal of the journey. Sometimes, you need a lot of organizational work – after all, the most interesting places to visit are often far from the road and from conventional methods of transportation. So it can take a few hours to develop a pathway, if you are traveling to North America, where you can find plenty of detailed information about everything. If you’re traveling through wild Asia, on the other hand, it could take a few weeks – in that case, it could take a long time to plan routes, talk to people, look for information on the Internet, and extract the coordinates of particular places. But you can find interesting places anywhere in the world, which is something I discovered on my very first trip abroad. After graduation, I was drafted into the army, and I came back to a completely different country. I began working for a company that distributed Russian souvenirs (Russian dolls, etc.). Then, I became the sales manager and was put in charge of organizing the international exhibitions. The first country I visited was Switzerland – I stayed there for a few months, and in that time, we went to the Alps, right to the foot of the Matterhorn.It was unbelievable beautiful!
So you already knew what your passion would be after the collapse of the Soviet Union, even back then?
In my youth, I was even a candidate for the national Olympic team in the modern pentathlon race, which would have competed at the Olympics in Lake Placid. But the Soviet Union refused to participate in those Olympic Games. After that, there were going to be very important events held in the GDR, but I was not allowed to attend; the Russian government remembered my parents’ work in Space Research. I felt as though I would never be able to get out of the country.
So your new hobbies, hiking and photography, came from your parents?
Yes, they would take me hiking on a regular basis when I was a kid. This was a tradition in our family, to go hiking with technical scientists. And actually, my first job was at the Space Research Institute in the Russian Academy of Sciences. But even then, I was fond of photography: I set up a laboratory in the pantry, where I practiced with chemicals and film development techniques. I was so fond of that hobby, in fact, that I graduated from Lomonosov Moscow State University with a major in photojournalism. And now I’m thinking of continuing to do business and somehow involving photography. I have an interesting start-up idea that could possibly infiltrate the international market, which involves both travel and photography. “Akella” is an already formed business, and it hasn’t going thorough its best period since the market of video game retail distribution went into stagnation. So I’m interested in developing my new idea further.
Text: Sofia Ponomareva