Several Fieldwork Photographs

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.



Packing to Fieldwork

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



Lake Baikal



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)

Beauty, Youth, and Aging

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.”

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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.

The United States of Summer

In my imagination, Texas is empty, big, hot, a summer whale of state. The state in the United States of Summer. I like its dusty surfaces, stained glass, closed doors, bleached flags and fields, lamps and fences, cactuses and magnolias, unmeasurable spaces. If one is to assemble a full archive of Texas, one has to have an infinite stretch of time at one’s disposal. In the absolute quiet of ideal library, piecing images together, one is to compose a detailed description of all miniscule events which were never to happen in Texas in reality unless one documents them.


Photographer and Ethnographer: Experience of the Collaborative Work

Preliminary Notes

The photographer’s view, reconstructed (based on the photographer’s insight)

Photographer: presses the button of the camera (to use Cartier-Bresson’s expression, a finger of the photographer is a “great masturbator”)
enjoys gazing (colorful ethnic objects, people)
photographer is a soloist
offers new approaches that surprise the ethnographer
teaches the ethnographer how to be laconic, to speak about important, to think differently
insists on the non-academism of the project

Ethnographer: consults
thinks about the possible routes and trajectories of the travel
does the preparation, preliminary work
gives directions but within these directions the photographer discovers his own paths
offers the theme
helps the photographer
is the photographer’s assistant, his additional eyes and ears (“этнограф – ассистент фотографа, его подсказчик, его дополнительные глаза и уши”)
advises on the new angles
should be photographically educated
studies from the photographer

planning and preparation of the travel
field work
selection of the photographs
developing of the stories for the blog and multimedia

The ethnographer and the photographer grow into each other (“прорастание этнографа в фотографе и наоборот”). A decisively symbiotic image.

The similarities between the photographer and the ethnographer:

both look
both look in depth

The results:
Synthetic product
“Cinematic truth” (“киноправда”)

Genre: unknown
Visual essay, scientific poetry, photo-prose, ethno-photo-fairy tales? (“визуальная эссеистика, научная лирика, фото-литература, этно-фото-притчи?”)
Absolute document (“документ-абсолют”).


I expected the photographer would be a submissive figure in regard to the ethnographer/anthropologist in the field. However, the photographer perceives himself as the leading figure of the tandem.

Perverted Images

As an occasional spectator of this image observed, with a striking originality of thought, stones are the first photographers: they capture the moments of lava movement.


The photograph depicts a cliff with the aperture above and is taken on January 3, 2016, in the Longhorn Cavern, by me.

To elaborate, the stones simultaneously are the first photographs: they suspend the clandestine processes boiling in the heats of liquid basalt. The nature of photography is thus preserved: the ultimate temporality captured for eternity.

What is remarkable about this picture? Nothing in particular. The post-processing with similar results abound on the web. It has the characteristic gradations of tone and color and a frame which is supposed to convey a nostalgic touch to the image. Perhaps it achieves the intended results, perhaps not, one could have said, were it not for the fact that there were no “intended results” in the sense of “fruits of premeditated human activity yielding to the electronically altered image.” What we see is this post-procession, created entirely by Assistant, the application.

The image was to remain dormant in my endless photo roll, but as a result of the unknown to me algorithm it was selected for manipulations, alterations, and transmogrification,  and subsequently fused into the image we now know it to be.

Out of several attempts of altering photos the application makes, some ask to be discarded without long musings. The algorithm turns the images into the black-and-white shadows of themselves where no human being, regardless of how little of artistic sense s/he has (not), would never do. Out of those which might be kept, many images are very similar-looking, as if watched through the yellow-green-magenta blurry filters. The Assistant adds a pretty heavy vignette, as well as the aforementioned artistic frame alluding to the times of analogous photography, and adjusts brightness, contrast, and saturation.

Sergyei Akishin speculated: “I think the only justification for photo processing obsession is a great desire for something unedited and unprocessed to suddenly appear as facially, though maybe unbearably, evident” (Akishin, 2016) thereby suggesting that we like processed photos because they make, by virtue of their existence, other photographs, and perhaps even un-pictured and undocumented reality, appear to be more true by contrast.

Perhaps this is a part of the attraction of post-processing, but a more important sentiment is the desire of temporarily dislodge oneself into a transformed fairyland, the phantasmagoric dreamworld, the stranger the better.


Akishin, Sergyei.

2016. A comment on Facebook. [retrieved 1/14/2016]

Photograph, Time Suspended

To be naturally evoking, the photo should depart from every naturalness, and be heavily edited. There is no reason not to edit a photo up to making the depicted object unrecognizable. The photo is a specter of the moment, an apparition of the thing, and a ghost of the person. It is far more “natural” when it makes no direct allusion to the reality that it “represents,” not to mention that it does not re-present but simply presents. Presents something. Not reality. Or at least not really. The further it departs from shapes and shades, forms and surfaces, conventional lights and shadows, the better. Thus it does not attempt to deceive you, signaling with all possible clarity that this is the mold of what is already gone (if it ever was, at all).

Cartier-Bresson wrote: “A photograph is a vestige of a face, a face in transit. Photography has something to do with death. It’s a trace.” ( The imagery of this phrase immediately burst into the bundle of separate galleries: transit refers to the fleeting, ephemeral nature of the matter, vestige and trace, to the capability of objects to remain visible and feelable after their disappearance and dispersing into nihil. The neighboring of the death and trace in the phrase evokes the moss-covered tombs on the old cemetery, in-rotten into dewed grass. To take it further, photography is a trace of what never happened, it is the flattening of the three-dimensional objects which makes them strangely, perversely more visual, stops attention, and settles into memory.

It has been noted how much the technological changes advanced photography. But the photography would soon live through another revolution when professional cameras would finally be capable of uploading the images onto the web directly. Before that, we live in the medieval times.

The development of technology changes the experiences of taking the photo and of being photographed. It has been a time since I had an experience of a posed collective photo, previously a popular genre. Family gatherings may still require this sort of ritualized activity, but once it was a ceremony that had to be agreed upon in advance. My mother and her sister would clad themselves and us, their children, in the fine dresses, and lead to a studio. The photographer would arrange everyone like the docile dolls, put your hand here, lift your chin, do not blink, stare at the aperture of the camera resembling the squid’s eye; now the bird will fly out. One of such photographs, buried somewhere in my archives, is memorable because it pictures the three children’s faces, out of four, unhappy, with the angles of their lips pointed down, while Lena, the oldest sister, and our mothers are appropriately cheerful and smile. For some reason, my brothers and I, three of us, did not want to undergo the procedure slowing down our summer entertainment. We did not succeed in convincing adults that it is not a good idea, but we succeeded that day in spoiling everyone’s mood, and the photograph, with our silly pouts.

By contrast, new genres emerge to supersede the dying with the development of technologies. Selfie, which now requires nothing but a moment, has been propagating at the frightening rate. Periodical grumblings that people nowadays have exclusively selfies in their camera rolls aside, the creative projects exploring the ephemerality of one’s own face are on the rise: A Man Takes Photos of Himself for 12.5 Years ( Woman Takes a Picture of Herself for 5 years ( And so on. One of the most powerful projects here is Abused Woman Takes Pictures of Herself for a Year (

With the exception of this last example, which goes far beyond these tasks, that is the exploration of how we age, what happens to us, and how it changes our facial features, the inescapability of time, the impact of the environment.

Photography is the second invention of time; time made tangible. A work of the photographer is the work of the collector, the self-assigned archivist, and the translator who renders seen by many, captured by no one, into the language known by all.

The majority of photographers are the classifiers that are interested in no system but in kickshaws and miscellany. But once a conceptual clear-cut comes into play (like the idea of architectural geometry in the Soviet spaces), the visual projects come into being and flourish.