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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)



  • 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 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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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Sunday, Nov. 23


Get in the holiday spirit at today’s Winter Bazzar at the Astoria Hotel. Featuring gifts from around the world such as French eclairs, Dutch cheeses and Indian jewelry, the annual event organized by the International Women’s Club will feature 18 international stands and raise money for charity through the sales of a diversity of products that further illustrate the city’s international connections.



Monday, Nov. 24


Dr. Axel Schulte, Department Head at Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics in Dortmund, Germany, is the featured speaker at the SPIBA Industrial Committee lecture on “The Fourth Industrial Revolution: Digitalization of the Supply Chain.” The event begins at 4 p.m. at the Graduate School of Management at 3 Volkohvsky Pereulok and registration is required by Nov. 21 either by emailing office@spiba.ru or calling 325 9091.



Tuesday, Nov. 25


Tag along with AmCham during their “Industrial St. Petersburg” Tour program today. This incarnation of the ongoing series will visit Philip Morris Izhora and include an Environmental Health and Safety Committee meeting.


Find out how to expand your business east during the “Business With China” forum beginning today and concluding tomorrow at the Lenexpo convention center. The largest Russian forum dedicated to business with the Asian giant, topics that will be discussed include logistics, customs clearance, trade financing and many more.



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