As solar eclipse approached, I was thinking about making an exit, an escape out of it, into the city, in hunt of the everydayness, the experience where the mundane collapses and coagulates with spectacular. There were gazers in Austin that did not make it into my objective; they were exchanging eclipse glasses, and one young pregnant woman stood with her swollen belly, bared, offering it to the sun obstructed by the moon, perhaps in search of some sort of connection for her unborn baby with the forces of the universe far exceeding the limits of our imagination and knowledge, with forces non-human, powerful and divine.
I was looking at the familiar space of the city that has been hosting me for the last six years, and these six years were a pinnacle in its existence: during this time Austin rapidly grew and skyrocketed to the first positions of all kinds of ratings, from most-desirable-cities-to-live in America to cities-that-offer-the-best-ratio-of-entertainment-fun-and-prices-for-rent, or so I’ve been told. Austin is continuing growing and will do so in the observable future, but it is no longer the pioneering city in terms of exchanging comfort for money or best prospects for young professionals. Austin is still one of the desirable place to live but its paradise-like attraction is nearing the end as it is gradually taken over by corporations and undergoes yet another after another wave of gentrification.
I am planning to document through photography several streets in Austin that encompass its spirit best, and I open this project with this series of photographs: Austin during the partial eclipse. The eclipse span nearly three hours, from 11:41 AM to 2:39 PM, with a pinnacle at 1:10 PM.
I enjoyed the light on this day, which seemed unusual to me–and finally I was able to free myself from the idea that I observed a partial solar eclipse before. If I observed the eclipse before, it was not during this earthly life (not that I believe in this shit).
Connection between the mother and the daughter is a special connection, full of warmth, hope, and care. In the pink room that Catherina created for her daughter with a rare, mellifluent name Evelina, all dreams should come true. Fairies, unicorns, barbies, princesses, and all the inhabitants of the world of wonder, world of fairy tales, would witness the growth and development of the happy Evelina’s life.
The girlhood. The desire that the happiness would come true, is so pronounced.
The soft light envelopes the tiny figure on a toy horse. And it seems like all the pink shine in the pink room emanates from this source of light.
The pictures are taken by the author in the village of Anosovo, Siberia
I posted on academia.edu my short playful writing on selfies. it is currently under consideration in one new anthropological internet venue; I have not heard from them for a while. I first presented my selfie project at John Hartigan’s class last year as a talk, and here is finally a writing:
“Persistency of mirrors is known to everyone as a quality of re-demonstrating a looker, always, to the looker. Narcissism, “destined to oneself” (Merleau-Ponty, The Visible and the Invisible, 1968, 249, quoted by Derrida, Memoirs of the Blind, University of Chicago Press, 1993), is the plague of the modern times, critics fear. Self-portrait in the time of proliferation and ubiquity of technology emerges on a verge of narcissism and cultural critique of narcissism, as [that] what appears to be a result of the collaborative struggle between two discourses, disproving and supporting each other. The cultural critique of narcissism is a Narcissus itself: it is undetachable from the object at which it looks. Whenever Narcissus turns, it is always Narcissus that he sees. Whenever the conversation about selfies starts, inevitably someone points out or implies that it’s a morally questionable enterprise. (“Self portrait of NN knows it,” Derrida would have said.) Yet… What is there to be painted except for self-portrait? What is there to be taken if not selfie?”
Selfie is an ideal ruin. For tomorrow self is dead.
I published on the academia.edu our project Ryzyka: A Curated Conversation, created in co-authorship with Irina Oktyabrskaya, Valeriy Klamm, and Craig Campbell. This work came out on the website of Cultural Anthropology. This is the opening entry of the collaborative project between Cultural Anthropology and Visual Anthropology Review, titled “Writing with Light” and meant for publishing photos(+)texts. My contribution as I saw it, was to ask on the ethnographic Siberian material, or rather “to continue to ask,” to use the Derrida’s expression, the question: What is the difference between photo-essays and visual (anthropology) essay?
“In our framing of this photo-essay, we let our conceptual approach revolve around affect rather than historical meaning. We are interested in situating the reader in the midst of a carefully assembled collection. We want to invite her to navigate an assemblage that renders multiple superimposed stories of life, that neither subordinates the rich complexity of the world made visible through photography to a single hermeneutic goal nor abdicates the role of critical description. Historical frames are hinted at, but are ultimately secondary to a visually rich narrative of everyday life that punctures through the social orchestrations of annual festivals and holidays. In addition to its focus on affect, the photo-essay composes a kind of story that refuses any attempts to extract form from content: neither is available for perception, as it were, without the other element.”
Today I will have the first bunch of Siberian photographs printed. Looks like I won’t be able to go through all folders, like I planned. I am getting tired from skimming photographs.
I always wanted to go through all of them and make a “final selection,” to divide good from bad. But it is impossible, it turns out. There will always be omissions, and always selection will be not final / not draconian enough.
Each carries a memory, but also photographs enigmatically record and carry memories of how one looked at them before. It’s endless layering of memories.
I have selected Siberian photos before for different websites, but in my previous selections I was greedy. I chose one photo out of each series, because I wanted to preserve the event. But photography is impressionistic media; it’s not about information, it’s about impression.
I have to return the photo camera that I used during the field work, tomorrow, and so, downloaded the last series of photographs that I took in Siberia during the endless, shiny, everlasting summer of 2016.
Mostly, these pictures are taken in the town of Ust Uda, but some, in the village of Anosovo. I did not process the photographs; they are in their rough initial form.
As I already had a chance to mention elsewhere, this summer I am going to do a preliminary fieldwork at my fieldsite, in the village of Anosovo in Siberia. I am packing, and have already collected my books. I decided to take all of the books I initially wanted, despite that “Anosovo has a library!” argument from my worrying parents. Now it is the time to collect clothes, which I delayed for as long as I could because, like all necessary actions, it is boring.
Extracting one by one things out of the depths of my wardrobe full of skeletons, and putting them side by side on a bed, I am trying to decide what to take with me and what to leave. What do they wear now in Moscow, I don’t know, but certainly not pajamas, as is Austinites’ nice habit. But that is not my concern.
What do they wear in Siberia, is more important. If I take my camouflage pants–Russian and NATO-style, for I own both varieties–would it be okay? I was wearing them alright there, but women certainly dress in beautiful skirts and pretty cardigans in Anosovo, not in NATO camouflage (I wonder why). For a woman, fieldwork experience might be different than for men, and perhaps it starts early on. In fact our gender defines us in all kinds of imperceptible ways, on which we barely reflect.
Would my clothing affect the way they would perceive me? Most likely, yes. I never thought about it before. I am going to blend in, as much as it is possible for a Muscovite, which means perhaps my uniform should be different. I imagine the anthropologist arriving to a country in Africa clad in sand-dune camouflage and wearing a pith helmet–well, probably, no anthropologist today submits easily to the colonial style of dress, do they?
This might be more important than I thought before, for in my camouflage I would certainly look like a Muscovite tourist. Not that it means I could start wearing skits all of a sudden. That would be too much of an effort: I rarely wear skirts, I simply do not like them, I guess. It is certainly fine for a man to wear camouflage pants there. Ah, anyway. I am throwing them in.
Several photographs out of the archive of my previous visit, summer 2013:
Ded Gosha (“Grandpa” Gosha) drinking his tea. Photo on Nexus phone
One of my favorite pictures of that summer, also taken felicitously on Nexus. I call it “Reading”
A girl in pink in the village of Atalanka, Siberia
Young men sitting near the house
(All pictures are taken on Canon 400D unless otherwise noted)
I met a beautiful woman, L., on Congress Avenue in Austin, in a bright morning hour in 2014. I noticed her from afar: she was wearing a wide-brimmed hat and a billowing, long, black and white dress. We stopped on the red light crossing the street concurrently. She noticed that I look at her, and casually started a conversation. She was walking to her favorite cafe and invited me with her. I ordered a cup of coffee, she bought a latte and a doughnut, and in several phrases she told me her story.
“From the early childhood I was into makeup and fashion.” She said. “I never did heroine, that was not my time, but I drank and I did cocaine, that was my time.”
She was a model, and was never married.
“I just did not want to live with a man.”
She was working hard.
“Girls from rich families do not have to, but we, we had to.”
This very morning she picked a number of photographs from her archive to send them to her sister, who asked her about this favor. She showed the pictures to me, extracting them one by one from a huge brown envelope. She kindly permitted me to photograph them.
“Do you like Sex in the City?” She asked. “I look like Carrie Bradshow, and you–you look like Charlotte York. Yes, you will be Charlotte. We already have Miranda and Samantha.” (She was referring to her friends.)
I was looking at her, at her photos, and I caught myself wondering back then as I think about it now: What does it mean for a woman, to age?
I am a woman myself, and over time I am gradually gaining understanding how women age. I encountered men explaining to me that I am about to lose my beauty. One moment was particularly striking. When I was in my twenties, on a plane a man going down the aisle, whom I did not know, twice my age, told me out of the blue that I was beautiful, and added: “But it will soon pass. The corners of your mouths would turn down.”
Once I took a selfie with my child’s toy: a mustache on a stick. Looking at the picture, I was struck by how young my face was looking in this momentary, fleeting, playful assumption of masculinity. In my 36, I am barely a young woman any more, but I am definitely quite a young man.
Am I beautiful? A dreadful question which defines us so profoundly at certain stages of life. The answer to this question is, always, yes of course you are, because beauty is in motion and in the movement of your mind, in thought that your eyes reflect, and in the kindness of your heart.
Am I beautiful? The irony of it, we never know just how beautiful we are, even if we are aware of our beauty, much less when we are unaware–but then we look at our own photographs and remark that we were beautiful.
Am I beautiful? What does it matter if I am not? What does it matter if I am? All too young, one is irreparably made aware that her appearance is favorable (or not, or, more often, both). And it is a highly racialized process, not to mention other complexities.
It so happens that men compliment me a lot these days, far more often than they complimented me a decade ago–although I must say I am in a very privileged position to be, there was never a lack of it. I don’t know what to connect a sudden increase of praise to though, many factors, I guess. A red lipstick is definitely one of them. But perhaps most importantly, I owe these compliments to the very fact that I am older now and paradoxically my kind interlocutors are being somewhat more generous if they tell me how good-looking I am, now that I am older.
And a lot of these compliments, too many, assess my young looks. As if being young should be my desire, and being younger-looking is a thing I need to know about myself, and cherish. As if there is an all-too-evident way of making me happier: just tell me how young I look (if I do not, just say it anyway).
And I am expected to be pleased with these assessments, for which I did not ask, and take pride in looking supposedly younger than my age. Which brings a lot of difficult questions. Is it really a good thing for a person to appear, even if this is by way of a not-fully-sincere compliment, younger than they are? Does not a phrase “you look young(er)” robs you of your experience? Does not it erase who you are, diminishes your wins and losses? Does not it attempt not to notice who you have become and are becoming by this time of your age? Does not it suggest another, better you, in which you are somehow in a competition–and to whom you would lose in a face-to-face confrontation?
I am interested in how women’s magazines address aging, for they do, from time to time. Often in light how nobly age certain beautiful women, and how badly lose their battle with time other women. As a rule, noble aging means successful plastic surgery, and ugly aging means plastic surgery gone awry. Either way, you are fighting a battle, and either way you are about to lose it–if not next year, then soon enough. But you have to be or to appear young, and if magazines are to be believed, in doing so you also have to wear clothes and make up which suit primarily young women.
To age, and to lose brightness of your eyes, to lose tightness, elasticity, and evenness of your skin; to acquire wrinkles; to have a changed, further changing face, on which a sleepless night leaves its inexorable trace; to lose the precision of your vision; to lose agility, is no fun for any gender. But it is a high demand for a woman to be not just successful, not just married, not just a mother in a certain timeline, but also to remain young and pleasing to the eye, attractive, beautiful. Beautiful but beautiful in a specific way. It is not thoughts, nor philosophical studies, nor the sharpness of her mind–which are evident in her face–that matters, but how how closely she is identifiable with a generalized image of a beautiful woman, in other words, how well she conforms to standards. The generalized images of how a beautiful woman looks, in the West are very few, and closely resemble each other. But the list of conditions you have to satisfy to be considered a beautiful woman, is long and wearisome.
For a model, the face and the body are instruments. They are her tools of earning her living, but also they are used as tools by forces greater than her. They are employed and exploited to replicate the standards of beauty by expressing them in a living being’s polished, altered, improved appearance. Women use these standards in their turn to navigate these spaces to their advantage.
The temporality is tragic. Every story of aging is tragic. Aging is a world-altering experience. Is there a way out, towards the universe where appearance in general, and younger looks in particular, do not matter that much? I don’t know.
But when I look at the photographs of my exceptional interlocutor, both in her maturity, in her ripeness, and in her blooming, her blossoming, her nascent, fledgling beauty, I see her story as a film — and a very short film at that, for I do not know many things about her. It is as if her whole lifetime was sped up in a quick video clip, reminding me of those videos which people sometimes create, putting their images of themselves, taken day by day for years, together. The film of a bold, creative exploration of temporality and ephemerality and endurance and inner and outward beauty. Of a manifest beauty piercing years. The film about the world and our brief and aggrieved, and still fascinating, act of living in it.