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Life on the periphery

Photographer Alexandra Demenkovas pictures of people on societys margins reveal their inner stoicism.

Published: January 30, 2013 (Issue # 1744)



  • Demenkova seeks particular inspiration for her photographs in the lives of people in Russian villages.
    Photo: ALEXANDRA DEMENKOVA

  • For Demenkova (r) it is important to build a rapport with her subjects.
    Photo: MELINEE PROCHASSON / SPT

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 dont have time to think about taking pictures anymore. I feel lucky that I survived miraculously so many times, but now I cant 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. Its an act of liberty and I respect it.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Wednesday, Sept. 3


Although the Peter and Paul Fortress sand sculptures are more central and therefore more visible to the throngs of tourists, the 300th Anniversary Park of St. Petersburgs own collection closes today. The World Collection of Sand Sculptures that have been on display at the park reaches its final day, so fans of the classic beach activity should get there while they can.



Thursday, Sept. 4


Vladimir I. Danchenkov, Head of Baltic Customs, will be in attendance during AmChams Customs and Transportation Committee Meeting convening this afternoon at the organizations office near St. Isaacs Square at 3 p.m.



Friday, Sept. 5


Scrabble lovers and chess masters get their chance to assert their intellectual dominance at the return of the British Book Centers Board Game Evenings tonight. Held weekly on Friday nights, the event gives both board game lovers and those hoping to improve their English the chance to meet, greet and compete. Check out the centers VK page for more details.



Saturday, Sept. 6


Athletes will relish the chance to get the latest gear and try out something new at I Choose Sport, an annual event at Lenexpo forum that plans to welcome more than 30,000 people this week to the international exhibition center. Not only will visitors get to try their hand at various athletic endeavors but they will also be able to peruse equipment that can fulfill their dreams of becoming a champion.


Local KHL team SKA St. Petersburg open their season this evening at home against Lokomotiv Yarovslavl at the Ice Palace arena next to the Prospekt Bolshevikov metro station. See their website for a full schedule and available tickets.



Sunday, Sept. 7


Check out retro and antique cars at Fort Konstantin on Kronstadt Island in the Gulf of Finland at FORTuna, a yearly car festival that highlights the eccentricities of the Soviet automobile industry. A car race, contests and a stunt show will give visitors a chance to rev their engines.



Monday, Sept. 8


This evening marks the opening of the two-week ballet festival High Season at the Mikhailovsky Theater. Check the theaters website for more details about performances and featured dancers.



Tuesday, Sept. 9


Discuss the latest news and issues at the AmCham Hazardous Waste Management Roundtable this morning in the Tango Conference Hall of the Sokos Hotel Palace Bridge on Birzhevoy Pereulok. Starting at 9 a.m., planned topics include the Krasny Bor landfill and waste transportation between Russia and Finland.


Learn more about the citys modern architectural trends at the SPIBA Real Estate and Construction Committees meeting on the topic Contemporary Petersburg Style: What is It? Participants will get the chance to discuss whats in-demand with RBI Holdings Irina Petrova and Lubava Pryanikova, and the current state of the local real estate market. Please confirm your attendance by Sept. 5 through SPIBAs website if you wish to attend.



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