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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

Thursday, Aug. 21


Time is running out to see the fantastic creations on display at the 2014 Sand Castle Festival on the beach at the Peter and Paul Fortress. Adhering to the theme of Treasure Island, visitors can wander amongst larger-than-life interpretations of pirate life or attend one of the workshops held to educate a future generation of sand artists. The castles will remain on the beach until Aug. 31.



Friday, Aug. 22


Get ready to pledge allegiance to the flag during National Flag Day, paying tribute to when, 23 years ago today, the iconic hammer-and-sickle was replaced with the tricolor that now flutters in the wind. Petersburgers will be treated to a free concert on Palace Square, a military parade and a culminating air show featuring Russias Russian Knights stunt pilots.



Saturday, Aug. 23


Uppsala Park plays host to Fairy Noon today, a performance of five separate fairy tales ranging from folk classics to more haunting selections. There will be three different renditions of the tales throughout the day and tickets start at 500 rubles ($13.80) for adults and 300 rubles ($8.30) for children.


Classic Finnish cartoon characters the Moomins expect to receive a warm welcome from Russian fans during todays Moomin Festival at the Pearl Plaza Shopping Center at 51 Petergofskoye Shosse. Become a kid again or introduce a new generation to the beloved creation of Finnish writer Tove Jansson.



Sunday, Aug. 24


The tortured genius of Dutch master Vincent van Gogh gets his day in the centers Konnushnaya Ploschad during Make Art Like Van Gogh, a daylong celebration of the artist that will allow amateur artists to try and replicate the work that made the famed painter world-renowned.


Experience a variety of dances highlighting the diversity of the world around as at the final day of the Ethno-Dance International Dance Festival that has been at the St. Petersburg Humanitarian University of Trade Unions this past week. Tonights performance will feature Egyptian dancers accompanied by local orchestras.



Monday, Aug. 25


Today kicks off the Elena Obraztsovoy International Competition for Young Vocalists in the large hall of the Shostakovich Philharmonic. Talented youngsters will showcase their range over the next six days before a winner is chosen on Aug. 30.



Tuesday, Aug. 26


Love movies but hate all those words? Then check out Rodina Cinema Centers Factor of Consensus film forum this evening. Silent movie classics from the beginning of the 20th century will be screened and accompanied by a pianist, who will provide the soundtrack for the ongoing action. The screenings begin at 7 p.m. Check Rodinas website for more details.



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