"The most interesting thing about artists is how they live."
“My photographs in Invisible People of Belarus focus on residents who are mobile, communicative, and who I could form a sociality with. These form a story of those people as human beings; as people who suffer and struggle against injustice in their everyday lives; and as people who look after each other; build long lasting friendships; and fall in love even in an environment that does not seem hospitable to that feeling. Resilience is important. And so are the personal relationships and characters of the people living in internats. Internats flatten various different disabilities into a catch-all concept of abnormality and then mandate that this abnormality be confined in an institution. Yet within those institutions there exists a plurality of relationships and different ways of living as varied as in the society outside their walls. Perhaps more varied. I tried to collaborate with my subjects to make them as comfortable as possible and to give them a sense of ownership over how they were being photographed. I focused on their creative endeavour; their practices of making art and making self within an institution whose ethos often denies the right to self-determination. I have accompanied my images with as much and as varied contextual information as possible so that the reader can understand the historical and familial circumstances, both of subjects and photographer, that have led up to the moment of taking the picture. I hope that this information will render the images dialogic: not a frozen depiction of Otherness, but a gentle animation of character emplaced within a milieu rather than the rigid frame of the picture.
If you feel an affectionate turning towards these people, then I have succeeded.”
“Yet, this isn’t all about Chernobyl. Internats house a range of people, some with conditions that would not in any way prevent them from living independently if it weren’t for societal attitudes towards disability. This is important to remember, for while scientific efforts to decontaminate agricultural land are absolutely necessary, it must also be remembered that there will always be subjects who do not fit with some cultures’ ideals of what constitutes a ‘normal’ body or mind. Those are subjects who we should take the most care of, and with whom we should forge a being in common, not a divided body politic separated by walls and fences.”
“Given the dire state of press freedoms and high levels of corruption in the country, it is unlikely that the reality of life in an internat would be reported in the local press. Thus, I travelled to Belarus to learn about life in internats; to observe; to understand; to talk with people; and, where appropriate, to take photographs. But the stakes are high. Taking images in the internats is officially prohibited. I heard of a case where an NGO worker had photographed the abuse of an elderly woman. She was dragged along the floor naked by her elbows. When the directors of the internat found out, they banned the NGO from working there for three years. But if you judge the situation correctly – assess the different environments of the particular institution, and build relationships with the residents and staff – you start to realise that there are moments in which you can take pictures without being denied access. I felt strongly, because of both personal and political reasons, that there existed a story that could, and should, be told.”
“Invisible People of Belarus is a photobook accompanied by critical reflections and testimonies which documents the lives of disabled people and Chernobyl victims living in governmental institutions in Belarus. These institutions are known as internats and function as something between an orphanage, asylum, and hospice. Internats often exhibit glaring deficiencies in terms of how they care for their residents: very little physical or educational therapy is offered; there are few opportunities for recreational activities; and the right to a private life is not respected, with romantic relationships between residents prohibited. Integration within the local community is virtually non-existent. Their location makes it difficult for the families that would like to stay in touch with their children to visit. Some are located in very rural areas and with almost no public transport links. All internats are either fenced off or walled. This separation stands as a metaphor for the way disability is thought about in Belarus: misunderstood and better shut away.”
“The process of creating the photobook made me more regardful and critical of how I relate to the images, and basically to any other work I produce. It certainly deepened my apprehension of the way photographs may or may not work together, and compelled me to seek the unexpected connections. Getting the disparate fragments chained in equilibrium when the multiplicity of combinations is possible is an utterly absorbing process that can be tough at times. It also taught me how to make compromises without betraying the genuine intention. Since ‘be prepared for the worst’ and ‘have no expectations’ are my core principles, I can’t evaluate whether anything was easier. I guess if you put a substantial amount of effort into the work, everything is equally important, and there are hardly any easy routes in or out left, because it is about your personal responsibility and how you, as the artist, care about the final result. Perhaps, it has to do with my artistic attitude in general: if anything is becoming easy, I feel that I’m not dedicating myself fully. Obstacles and challenges are as needed as oxygen. There were some ‘unpoetic’ production delays, which forced us to postpone the book launch twice. I was very concerned with achieving the desirable colour reproduction on paper, and this resulted in more time being spent on getting the test-run prints ready. But luckily nothing too terrible, like the whole stock being flawed, happened.”
“Embarking on a path in the arts occurred after I became disillusioned in the possibility of pursuing law career in Russia. Despite being heavily into writing by then, I sought to experiment with the visual medium(s) for expressing my ideas and concerns. I reckon comparing photography and writing isn’t particularly fruitful, the one is never stronger than another, as they are essentially different mediums. It isn’t so much about ‘strengths’ and ‘weaknesses’, but more about choosing a more suitable form to transmit the specific message. And the criteria of ‘suitability’ are as much personal, as they are informed by the variety of contexts – social, political, etc. It is interesting to explore what kind of synthesis photography and writing can create together. Plus, considering the visual-dominated state of our society and culture today, it is almost impossible to ‘disengage’ from anything ‘ocular’.”
“The actual process of taking the photographs was rather spontaneous and instinctive, with openness, curiosity and incessant, acute observation being a decisive part of it. I tried to avoid over-thinking, or over-staging the photographs, prioritising the spontaneous, visceral response. Working outside the firm constraints and following the impulse instead of religiously chasing one theme or taking the beaten aesthetic path – those are the prevalent motifs in my work ethics. The phase of selecting and editing the imagery, as well as making the design-related decisions was far more structured, though even then, I was guided by the gut feeling and the emotional taking over the rational.”
“‘The Persimmon’s Fruit’ is a photographic travelogue about Japan, there’re also some words included in the book. My intention was to tell a visual, somewhat poetic, story about traveling to Japan without showing any recognizable tourist hot spots, exposing clichés, making the statements or objectifying anything. From the very beginning, I wanted the images to communicate the opposite of the sensual overload which is present in Japan, especially in the metropolitan areas, – something quieter, perhaps, more introspective, yet nevertheless diverse and engaging.”
“Exhibitions are important to me, because everything that will be turned into a book, should also be possible to be experienced in a physical way. I want to use this book to record the wonderful stories, which the people I’ve visited and interviewed told me, so that they won’t get lost. Everything will be documented and archived.
The hardest part in the creation of a book is to melt together the collected material and the photos’ casting so that it becomes a story. I work with Sybren Kuiper, a book designer. It is always an exciting process. An artist’s book is more for me than the ability sheer ability to turn pages. The kind of paper is highly important. The whole examination is supposed to be a sensible act. For this, I admire the books from artists like Yoshihiko Ueda, Rinko Kawauchi and Duane Michals (with his witty handwritten texts alongside his pictures).”
“I wanted to ask people what homeland means to them? Their house, their garden, their lives, their partnership? I talked to people in my neighborhood and visited these people for a long time during their regular days. I took part in their lives. I wanted to show the joy in people’s way of living. How happy they are with the place where they live. And why this place is their homeland.”