In a slightly frivolous act we’d like to present winter imagery in the middle of the burning hot summer 😉 Upon stumbling on Once Out of Nature: Travels through Russia (2003 – 2007) by Yola Monakhov Stockton we simply couldn’t resist and had to share this story with you here and now!
Once Out of Nature: Travels through Russia (2003 – 2007) attempts to be – as Monakhov Stockton says – both personal and descriptive. It’s a visual journey through the country of her origin, which she left at the age of 7 for the US. The photographer stresses that this work is not about Russia per se; it’s not meant to be an analytical study of the country. It’s more about her idea of Russia in a romantic, lyrical sense. Speaking of lyricism, the title of this series was directly inspired by a poem Sailing to Byzantium by W. B. Yeats, which talks about relationship between empire and time. Going back to the lyricism of the photography series itself, Once Out of Nature: Travels through Russia (2003 – 2007) talks of ‘Russia as a metaphor for a type of decay, or relationships and nature and the landscape and memory and longing and certain basic human things – and home.’ As she puts it in an interview published in the Photoshelter Blog, for her Russia is a place, where ‘nature ultimately [triumphs] over man’s desire to make a spot for himself, and man persisting in finding and creating beauty.’
Apart from the lyrical aspect, Monakhov Stockton also talked a great deal about her relationship to Russia as an emigrant. In the same interview, she’s making an interesting point by saying that she relates to her idea of Russian-ness in a regressive way, quite often shared by other migrants. Although countries they come from change and develop, emigrants get stuck in the past, holding on to an idea of a place that no longer exists in real space and time other than their own memories. Even though Monakhov Stockton might not be the first one to suggest such a relationship between migrants and their motherlands, it’s definitely an interesting thesis to consider.
As much as the lyricism of one’s search for lost motherland and origins is present in Once Out of Nature: Travels through Russia (2003 – 2007), it got me thinking about stereotypes surrounding Russia as well as other countries of the former Soviet empire. Even though the most common stereotypical imagery from the region is not visible in this project, what prompted these considerations was ironically Monakhov Stockton’s straight lyricism admitted outright. Such a clarity is usually absent from visually similar documentary projects. The entire concept of stereotyping former Soviet lands is very complex, but equally (if not more) fascinating. It appears that some photographers (both local and foreign) flock to what they see as quintessentially Soviet or Eastern European – e.g. babushkas in folk headscarves, men wearing Russian fur hats, etc. Is this still a common imagery throughout the region or do photographers look out for these images as they are more picturesque than others? Are we seeing the traditional but common or the stereotypical? Surely it’s a topic for an entire book but Monakhov Stockton’s honesty about her personal, lyrical approach prompted questions that we have to leave unanswered for now…