Nadia Sablin

Two Sisters

In 1952, my grandfather began to lose his vision as a result of being wounded in World War II.

Wanting to return to the place where he grew up, he found an unoccupied hill in a village in the Leningrad region of Russia, close to his brothers, sisters and numerous cousins. He took his house apart, log by log, and floated it down the Oyat river to its new location and reconstructed it. This house, with no running water or heat, is the place where my father and his siblings grew up, all moving to the big city after finishing school.



Now, more than half a century later, the house still stands, occupied by two of my aunts in the warmer months. Having never married, the two women have had to rely on each other for support and companionship throughout their entire lives. Together they plant potatoes, bring water from the well, and chop wood for heating the stove. Aleftina cooks the food, while Ludmila makes their clothing.

I have been spending my summers in the village as well, photographing my aunts quiet occupations, and the small world surrounding them. Their life spent in the routine of chores, handiwork and puzzles seems untouched by the passage of time.

In the series “Two Sisters”, I record the stories of their present-day life, and explore the childhood memories I have of them. Their house remains virtually unchanged in the twenty years I’ve been away. My remembrances play a large role in the images I record now, following the rituals that have come down from several generations and which are becoming lost in much of Russia.



Nadia Sablin was born in the Soviet Union and spent her adolescence in the American Midwest.

After completing an MFA degree at Arizona State University, she now lives and works in Brooklyn, NY and St. Petersburg, Russia. Her photographs have been shown at the Griffin Museum of Photography, Wall Space gallery and Jen Bekman gallery among others.


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Nadia Sablin


28 thoughts on “Nadia Sablin – Two Sisters”

  1. I like this. Simple living, strong character. Would have liked to see more aspects of their personalities, but perhaps it is what it is.

  2. Beautifully done. The juxtaposition of subtle and evocative still life images adds depth and texture in a very meaningful way. The portraits of the sisters are done with a tenderness and delicacy. The surroundings and activities are seamlessly interwoven into the characters of the two women. And the color! All together, a quiet eloquence.

  3. Nearing the end of this essay, I felt like I’d seen at least six characters living in at least two houses: two stooped older women, another pair with aged dignity, and still another pair wearing girlish print dresses combing out their long hair, and all these living in either a bright airy home or a dark, shadowy abode. There were moments of repetition, especially at the table, but I assume those were intentional.

    9, 10, and 19 stood out as the most stunning, but the overall effect is a combination of so much…light and darkness, life and life’s limits, and a lack of change.

  4. This is utterly utterly delightful, stunning, beautiful. Thank-you so much.

    Thankyou burn for this very welcome respite from the gritty, beat me over the head, overly-manipulated black and white, tsk tsk former Soviet Union misery essays that we are too often subjected to.

  5. I rarely comment on essays here but in this case I had to. I think a lot of this work. A “quiet eloquence” indeed. Personally, I would remove #13 (there are some wonderful detail shots but this does not rise to those) and #22 (since #21 seems such a great close and renders the last frame superfluous) but those are such small quibbles in a wonderfully heartfelt song.

  6. I think the subject matter is excellent, and although all of the photos are very nice, do not like it as an essay. Not even sure it should be called an essay as there is no narrative arc, at least that I am able to discern.

    No, this subject matter cries out for one great photo, an epic single that communicates infinitely more than any number of very nice ones. It’s there. Find it.

  7. What an exquisite essay, subtle yet telling. I see the sisters’ distinct personalities and rhythm of life as if it were a song sung softly. If I could choose only one image to live with, it would be #21. There I feel the powerful mystery of these women’s lives. It is like a Russian fairy tale come to life. Thank you, Burn, for sharing Nadia’s work.

  8. Посмотрите, Цвет нашли в России!! :))….Многие из моих самых больших и самых важных воспоминаний о России о времени, проведенном на Даче…Борщи выглядит потрясающе …. там должны быть очень свежими сливками и свеклы для производства этой славной цвет! И крыжовник варенье :))…Нежный и любящий историю. По правде говоря, я хочу, чтобы это было дольше, намного дольше. Дача, как история жизни человека, можно продолжать бесконечно. Спасибо за обмен.


  9. Enjoyed this, as well, Nadia.
    Takes one back to a simpler time. Reminds me of the German parents of a childhood friend
    and the annual process of harvesting their gooseberries and red currants.

    Image #9 is, somehow, quietly sinister. Her expression and the casual holding of the sickle
    suggests the possibility that there could be a skeleton or two in the closet :)

  10. Nadia, these are very nice – I enjoyed them greatly. Your style in this essay reminds me of the “quiet photography” of Sam Abell (one of my favorite photographers).

  11. Chairman,
    I know those plants as Japanese Lanterns. They grow in my yard and in the dunes near the beach. When ripe turning orange, they are tasty, almost like little plums. I eat them whenever I find them here. If you let them seed, you’ll see more of them the following year.
    By the way, I liked this essay. Those women reminded me of my long-gone Polish grandmother.

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