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“Anyone parted from his land will weep seven years.
Whoever is parted from his tribe will weep until he dies.”
Central Asian Proverb
I came to Canada at the age of 28, not knowing a word of English. I never felt comfortable expressing myself in this language. However, photography has given me a voice. The camera has allowed me to “listen to” and re-examine, in their photographic retelling, my Russian memories, to sail back into the world that had seemed lost to me while I struggled with my new life and new identity in Canada.
My photographs have never lost their sense of ‘Russian-ness’, however, new experiences, encounters with people in Canada have profoundly affected my photographic work, I began concentrating on the topics of identity and memory, human suffering in their relationship to land, as well as the understanding of mortality and psychological limitations. It made me reconsider my relationship to Russia. Increasingly, I experience more and more empathy to its people and their tormented moments of history. I have the sense that these moments made Russian people acutely aware of time passing, of time as a substance, when one could only be anxious, or terrified. It also made me think of the time outside of these events, molded by extraordinary Russian novelists, poets, composers.
These moments of history are in my subliminal presence when I am photographing or putting my pictures together. More and more do I want to photograph outside of time, independent of the present and my environment that I mistook for a home, and reflect the atmosphere of the past on peoples faces and places. When I return to Russia to visit, I often feel overwhelmed. Everywhere I look, I find the traces of its distressed history, its its rich but frantic culture. It is astonishing to find Russia in the predicament from making history to be caught in it. I become particularly aware of time. My consciousness is disturbed, ghostly reflecting the memory of those who have lived there before. I follow my own footsteps, haunt my former life akin to people who have been in a car accident and lost all their memory and now they are returned to a life they no longer recognize as their own. The process of my photography is one of layering the pictures like palimsets, cutting up the cityscapes and dusting them off as in archeology, as if juxtaposing past and present and embracing both.
The Versts (Версты) project is a direct development from my previous work and exploration of themes of migration, the fragile nature of memory and identity and how it aids in the construction of a subjective personal history in relation to physical traces and photography. I would like to produce a body of work akin to an excavation site, the photographs, which would connect me to the time when I felt a affiliation to place I used to call “home” and strong sense of identity, broken with immigration. I plan to photograph throughout Russia in order to make a pictorial record of things that once constituted my identity, Russian or Soviet, personal, historical, cultural, environmental. I hope to capture the expression of it on the experiential and spiritual level, rather than the documentation of life in Russia at this particular moment.
–Marina Black, 2009
Editor’s Note: Please only one comment per person under this essay.. Further discussions should take place under Dialogue..
Many thanks… david alan harvey