Home is such a simple word, but rich with meaning… remembered smells, tastes and moments we carry forever… perhaps a haven, a refuge… or perhaps not. So much feeling resides in that simple word… home.
When I first saw this image, beyond its elegant lighting, composition and serene beauty, I was struck by the relationship between the two women. It is so intimate – you can feel the years they’ve shared together. I discovered they are sisters and spend their summers in a rustic cabin built by their father. In their summer home in Russia they spend their days as they did when they were girls, doing everything by hand. I also learned that they are aunties to photographer Nadia Sablin. Nadia spent her first 12 summers in this home too, then left Russia with her parents for America. Nadia didn’t go back to visit this home until she was all grown up. When she returned she found much that was familiar… like hazy sunshine warming languid summer days… or the chill of morning mists drifting through memory like a recurring dream. Nadia Sablin, from an interview in Framed Magazine:
“Russia has always stayed for me this land of childhood. You know, the magical place… I walked into that house and not only was it a trip back in time, you know, it smelt exactly the same.”
“The tablecloth on the table was exactly the same; literally, it was the same tablecloth, with the same impressions that I remembered. There were the same faded spots that I remembered, now more faded.”
Nadia’s photographs have a simple elegance that echoes her subject matter. I love her eye for composition and her attention to the small details that honor the routines of daily life. If you go to Nadia’s website you’ll see she’s an accomplished portrait photographer – yet her aunties pose a more complex challenge. The portrait that Nadia tries to capture here is larger than a single image – it’s really a portrait of a life – in this case two lives intertwined. She calls her project Two Sisters. Rural life has often been romanticized… being at one with nature and the seasons… living the simple life. Still, there’s an important connection there that has become lost in the digital age. The virtual world that claims so much of our time seems like vapor next to the small daily tasks the aunties pursue to keep body and soul together. Gathering berries to make jam is almost a meditative experience… life, lived in the moment… Nadia, from an interview in this is the what:
“The two women are in their seventies, but carry on the traditional Russian way of life, chopping wood for heating the house, bringing water from the well and making their own clothes.”
“My photographs of them are a meditation on aging, family and a sense of belonging. The house in which Aleftina and Ludmila live was built by their father. The rugs are weaved by their mother.”
“They contribute to the home as well, with new wallpapers, hand-sewn curtains, quilts and lace. Handwritten recipes are folded to contain seeds for planting, or rolled up balls of stray hair.”
“Their environment is as much a character as they are themselves. The house smells exactly the same as it did when I was a child, like burning pine cones and old books.”
How many times has her aunt waited for the meal to cook, watching the pot as the liquid starts to raise little heat bubbles. There’s so much quiet history there. Nadia’s images capture a rich tapestry of these quiet moments. How different their lives are from our own. These photos make me think about what we’ve lost in the frenetic pace of modern life… how distant we’ve come from those simple tasks that fulfill us. I like the stillness of these frozen moments – they suggest a world at peace with itself. Perhaps that’s what Nadia found so appealing, what she was trying to capture with her camera.
Or maybe it was just a chance to revisit those magical memories from childhood… where each moment seems so fresh and unspoiled. As Nadia tells it, her aunties feel their lives are unremarkable – they didn’t understand why she wanted to photograph them. Perhaps so, but many others feel Nadia has created some remarkable images.
Her photographs leave space for the viewer to enter the frame. They invite you to see and reflect. Do they remind us of what we seek… or what we’ve lost?
As Thomas Wolfe wrote in Look Homeward, Angel:
“Remembering speechlessly we seek the great forgotten language, the lost lane-end into heaven, a stone, a leaf, an unfound door.”
So tell me what you think. How do you connect with these images? Do they have meaning for you? Leave a comment and let me know.