I do not know Saint Petersburg, but this place has always fascinated me. Two works by Fyodor Dostoyevsky come to my mind when speaking of this city. The short story “White Nights”, which describes a woman’s expectation for her beloved man and, of course, “Crime and Punishment”. After reading these books, how much have I dreamed of the banks of the Neva, passing beside this young couple or following the wanderings of Raskolnikov in prey to torment.
Finally, I do not know Saint Petersburg, one day maybe, but in the meantime Carma Casula takes us there, with her book Peter. The city of Peter is one of the most emblematic cities of Russia, so much so that it changed its name several times to Petrograd, then to become the City of Lenin, Leningrad, before returning to its name Saint Petersburg in 1991 after a tumultuous century in the history of Russia. In her project, Carma Casula watch the contemporanean society of Saint Petersburg, and how it has been wrought by history.
So Carma Casula takes us through the streets of Saint Petersburg. The city is modern and in many ways, hopes and desires seem the same as elsewhere in the world. But we can still read the history of the town, young people bathe in a basin under the eye of a statue of Lenin, young sailors remind us the crew of the battleship Potemnkin. Throughout the book, the past reappears and interacts with present. A picture of portraits of the children of Dostoievsky in his house museum, or the crowd that seeks to photograph, with their mobile phone, Leonard da Vinci’s Madonna Litta in the Museum of the Hermitage. Seasons come one after the other and the summer bathing gives way to snow ; couples get married, young people enjoy parties… Carma Casula offers here a portrait of the city in the thickness of time.
However, the work of Carma Casula is not limited to showing us public life in the streets of Saint Petersburg. She also meets the inhabitants, and her work of portraiture of these Petersburgers brings a new dimension to the story. The portraits are touching and come as a rythm in the book. A text presents the person(s), followed by a portrait and photographs of what is dear or valuable to them. We enter into the intimacy of these inhabitants, who give us a part of their inner feelings with frankness, which makes these testimonies highly valuable. They are fascinating, and also offer us a new entry key to the city. The younger ones express their hopes, while the older tell us about memories. Once again, these testimonies relate the everyday life, the sorrows and the hopes. Some are more touching than others, but these are individual considerations that appeal to our own perception or empathy. A way of deciphering a story in the light of our own memories and above all, of what we expect to find there. We meet these characters as we would meet them in the streets while a conversation takes place, we share ideas, we learn things we did not know before, and we read the history with more humility. The highlights of the twentieth century are unfolding : the horror of the siege of Leningrad by Germans Nazis is told with strength ; we are moved by the story of a couple formed during the Spanish Civil War, when Soviet Union sent troops to train revolutionary troops (this is my favorite story). We meet an Orthodox priest, a young model, a couple of entrepreneurs, a former soldier and many other characters who, at the end, make us feel that we know a little better this majestic city ans its inhabitants.
There are also some small details in this book that provide us some additional information, such as this comparison of kitchens with a bourgeois design “made by Ikea”, in opposition to a middle class kitchen or the extreme poverty of the Kommounalki shared kitchens. These three pictures remarkably show the diversity of the habitats and populations of Saint Petersburg; the stange feeling of what the capitalist dream has been able to represent since 1991, when the population has reappropriated its city.
What I love with this book its ability to let us coming back, for a moment or for longer, to go for a walk in the streets of Saint Petersburg, when we have an hour to lose!
Hardcover book published by Editorial RM in 2016. 17,5 x 23 cm. 234 pages, 130 color photographs
Vera y Victoria is a simple book, a book about love, but above all a refreshing book, at a time when many countries question the notion of couple, sometimes legislating toward a direction or another, about union between two people when, finally, it should only concern themselves. The notion of gender is at the heart of the work of Mar Saez and his book, smooth and subtle, gives us a tender look on the concept of couple.
When they kissed, for the first time in a park, Vera told Victoria she was transsexual. Things were said and the budding love was going to flourish in this relationship. From 2012 to 2016, Mar Saez will share the intimacy of the couple. For the two V. nothing will count but their relationship that they will live fully. With grace and elegance, we share moments of complicity of the couple: close-ups on gestures, stop on fleeting moments, loaded with emotion, Mar Saez does not stay outside the story and that is why she manages to convey her empathy. We are always very close, without ever falling into any form of voyeurism. The two young women give everything of their love, their joy, their happiness. They are one. Their respective identities are never mentioned in the book, reinforcing this impression of unity of their story, of their bodies, of their love. Transsexuality is evoked only in one image, in the middle of the book, as if to punctuate the story, but also to say that we must leave preconceived ideas elsewhere. Love has no sex, no genre, it is a particular alchemy which it would be very difficult to explain.
The quality of this work really has to do with the choice of the moments photographed. We are far from any anecdote or clichés. The story is intense and we feel it through a kind of tension that is created between the photographs. A rhythm appears between these bodies which approach each other, touching each other, moving away, then coming closer again, unable to bear the idea of being at a distance any longer. Small moments succeed the biggest, or, to better say, the more intense. The whole book is punctuated by texts, thoughts laid on paper, the need to say, to shout, their happiness to the face of the world.
The intensity of a story that, ultimately, is told, but more over lived. The book is an ellipse, it begins with entwined bodies, and ends in the same way, the story has no beginning nor end. No matter how long it will last, the story is timeless. Mar Saez opened a window for us, and now it’s time to retire, the parenthesis closes and the story goes on … or not. But this is no longer very important because we have seen moments of grace, moments of happiness, moments of joy: everybody’s ultimate quest. And a last special mention for the quality and the beauty of the black and white photography.
Published by Editions André Frère in 2016, softcover, 16,5 x 21,8 cm. 80 pages, 43 photographs in black and white.
Hortus Botanicus, one might think that everything is said in the title. This term refers to a botanical garden, and in this case, the one in Valencia – Spain, town where Rafael lives. For it to be factual, the title remains mysterious, precisely by this reference to Latin, the official language of the « plants and trees » world, although it often remains a linguistic approximation.
However, this is not to a guided tour that Rafael invites us, but rather to an imaginary journey. This work takes us back to those moments of childhood during which we slept in the grass to watch the canopy and let our imaginations wander. No way here to recognize the garden of Valencia, it is in a dream world that Rafael takes us.
To do so, he chose different methods. The first is the use of superimposed photos. Carefully cut out, the shapes in black and white, mix and recompose. We see shapes appearing and disappearing from a page to another one. We hear the sound of leaves together rustling. A tree, already seen, draws itself in the background, becomes tangled in the leaves of another to create a mutant species that remains to be determined. Herbs have the thickness of a trunk. At the end, we don’t know if these images are representations of reality or reconstructions of our memory.
The second process is related to the printing conditions. Rafael chose a silver paper with a metalic render for the cover and a semi-mate paper for the inside, which gives an extra dimension to photographs by the brightnesses and nuances that appear when leafing through the book. Shapes emerge from the fog of our dream. The images are very soft and gray background makes them immaterial, we find it hard to discern the shapes and to recognize them…
To photograph vegetation is not an easy work. You can easily tend to some superficial aesthetics which is only « nice » but without any background spirit. This book is the exact opposite, Rafael has found the perfect distance and appreciation to render the spirit of trees.
That reminds me one of my absolute favorite song :
Come closer and see
See into the trees
Find the girl
If you can…
A Forest, by The Cure, a recommended soundtrack to listen while reading the book !
Shirokuro Edition, softcover book, 32 pages, 13 X 20 cm, digital printing, edition of 60 copies signed and numbered . The book somes with a small print.
More info : http://tanaka-clan.tumblr.com/