Kristina Sergeeva’s debut photobook, a photographer from Petersburg, is all about a metaphorical search for her grandfather’s rifle. In the woods, family shots, or history reconstructions: the project is all about memories, falling into the abyss of nothing.
The photobook tunes the reader into the proper mood not only by its cover – cozy, surprisingly familiar, and rough cover surface, imitating shabby fabric notebook – but also by its name: “How Sasha Litvinov buried the rifle.” Clearly, the narration follows the facts and a family legend. The legend that they usually tell late at night to the curious lovers of the past celebrating a special day, like New Year: while eating the hot breathing potatoes and watching “The Little Blue Light” in the background full of tired people drinking tea right after champagne. At times like these, there is always someone telling stories of their relatives that passed away long ago, someone happily nodding and going into details, someone smiling secretly, and someone trying their best to imagine what they hear, and memorize each shared piece.
It seems the desire to understand stems from trying and making questions – exceptionally personal search (in Kristina’s case, it might be a detective story, indeed), the rebuilding of the past and memory of someone.
Though the author sought to show one’s legacy if they none, while alive, Christina shared her grandfather’s – Alexander Litvinov’s – biography, even though it was not what she aimed for. A collector, photo enthusiast, nature lover, an eccentric Russian Henry Toro-like man, connected his granddaughter via family myths and anecdotes. “Spiritually, he turned out to be closer than other relatives, though I don’t remember a single second of his existence. This paradox, partly, started my interest in the creation of this book,” Christina states.
One of the legends became the core the photobook was later built on while its formula reflected the book’s name. “My grandpa did the digging in the military zones (he has never been to war, though) – he was quite interested in the Third Reich theme: my granny told me he was fascinated by its esthetics. Once, he found a military uniform and a rifle; then, he buried it all in the field in front of the house. Nobody in the village knows where they are now.”
So, the rifle did exist and was, indeed, buried. But, as a project part, it represents the metaphor of a search for self and a study the author conducted: “It seemed to me, they symbolize our memories, sinking into the abyss of nothing we will never be able to rebuild.”
The author appeals to the memories using diverse techniques showing us different types of images she is working on. The first type was rather predictable – Alexander Litvinov’s archive photos (the chapped ones he made himself, with his fingerprints on them, and the ones he is in). The second image type is the items he found (The Third Reich artifacts and other things Christina has been collecting since childhood). The third type is her work itself – full of symbolism of attempts to remember her grandfather’s life applying to the other people’s memories and stories. In the book, you can find pictures with nature and forests telling either of memory or oblivion – which one to choose is up to the reader; or pictures with the old courts, mirrors, or walls marked with the deep cracks.
Also, the book contains a video fragment placed in the photo slides. Her grandfather was passionate about cinematography: he even took part in the crowd scenes in “Lenfilm.” She found a film, but, unfortunately, just one of them: six seconds grew into the storyboard document with the blurred picture of a wagon with a number 37 on it and a person with a winter hat. For the readers, he is just a stranger – boring and dull. For the author, he is a memory to be cherished.
Working with the archive photos, Christina applies a well-known technique quite popular among the experts. It was founded by Igor Savchenko, a conceptual author, who used this method in his early photo series. Igor Savchenko’s path in visual arts was closely related to the Minsk photography school. He uses zoom and framing to articulate an expressive language in his experimental photo item called “The men’s bath,” dated back to 1990 and firmed by a stranger as “N. Vyaznov.” With the eight retaken fragments of one photo, the author conveyed a new message. “Here, drama and intensity accompany the viewer’s reflection on time: each viewer may read the photo differently. It might be also read an image without genre limitations, cultural or historic features.”
According to Olga Kopenkina’s – critic and team leader – words, Igor Savchenko creates “a utopian apparatus of rebuilding the image of the past,” mixing the document narrative and fiction, inferring in the very fabric of the past – completing and rewriting the stories. Meanwhile, Christina uses the framing and zoom as parts of a broader, freer search strategy (grandfather, rifles, memory, self, etc.) To her, framing is a means to dive deeply, in the first place. The bullet holes on the trophy German steel helmet, Alexander Litvinov points to, subtly resonate in the chipped wooden doors; wrinkles on the photos are, indeed, cracks on the concrete wall. Vague memories happen to be the fading faces of strangers in the group photo.
Watching attentively gives a chance to understand, coming closer to someone – an illusion of intimacy. The answer to “Who is the Other?” may be of use when figuring out a “Who am I?” question; deeply understand the latter and pass it on.