Life on the periphery
Photographer Alexandra Demenkova’s pictures of people on society’s margins reveal their inner stoicism.
Published: January 30, 2013 (Issue # 1744)
Photographer Alexandra Demenkova has found herself in some hair-raising situations in the line of duty.
“I have found myself in danger a lot of times; it always happened when I was taking pictures,” Demenkova recalled during an interview with The St. Petersburg Times in her native town of Kingisepp in the Leningrad Oblast.
“It was mostly with drunken men — or women — when I felt in danger, when people would suddenly get aggressive and attack me, wanting to beat me up, or worse, kill me. The worst case was when I had to run out of a house barefoot — it was winter, minus 20 degrees Celsius, and the man was chasing me with a knife. That happened in Moldova. Or once I found myself face to face with a bull at a farm and I had a narrow escape. Normally, it all happens so quickly that you don’t have time to think about taking pictures anymore. I feel lucky that I survived miraculously so many times, but now I can’t do most of the things that I used to do in the past.”
These are not, however, the recollections of a war correspondent, but simply the obstacles encountered by an art photographer whose focus is the Russian village. Demenkova eventually hopes to publish her images of villages in a book.
Demenkova, 32, who is now based in St. Petersburg and whose work was recently exhibited in Barcelona, Spain and Namur, Belgium, refers to the people she photographs as “characters,” comparing the scenes she photographs to a real-life theater: Frozen frames from places lost in space and time.
“There is a certain connection between life and the situations I photograph, and literature and theater (or cinema),” she says.
“There is a direct comparison for me; I watch life in a similar way other people (and me) read books, watch movies or theatrical plays. But I prefer life, because it is a first-hand experience. Because it is not someone else, like a writer or a director, telling me a story, and me sitting in a chair or on the sofa, but me living, witnessing and discovering it and getting the opportunity to create it through photography, and tell it the way I see it.”
Talking about her subjects, Demenkova describes people beset by problems: People who drink a lot or have other problems, people who are ostracized by society.
“Even if they are always looked down on and most people despise them, for me, they are people who have not surrendered,” she says. “Alcohol, gambling and so on is a way to escape; they are forms of protest for those people. You make a decision, and you use your freedom to do what you want, even if you are ruining your life. It’s an act of liberty and I respect it.”
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