A Siberian photographer contemplates life in an isolated place

A Siberian photographer contemplates life in an isolated place

6 March 2020
Images: Marina Istomina

Photographer Marina Istomina, who won The Calvert Journal’s Makers of Siberia Special Jury Prize 2019, has opened her solo personal exhibition, telling the story of her small hometown Ust-Kut in the 90s and 00s.

Running at the Museum Centre Polashad’ Mira (or World Square) in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk until 29 March, the exhibition, titled Krysha, features archival images of feasts and picnics, Ladas and Mercedes, and portraits posed against ubiquitous wall-mounted rugs. It also shows performative self-portraits of the artist, as well as a 10-metre installation wall with 2,000 archive photographs from local residents, including disturbing images of crimes that took place in the town.

Krysha, which directly translates into English as “Roof”, is also local slang for “protection”, or ensuring preferential treatment from competing interests, including corrupt officials or criminal groups. The photos of lonely cars in empty lands, men dressed in black jackets, or Istomina’s own self-portrait in a balaclava, seem to allude to this meaning of the word. But they also subvert the term through references to femininity, such as pink ceilings or the photographer’s own delicate features.

Self-portrait.

The 26-year-old also takes the same concept in the existentialist realm. The eerie self-portraits of the photographer hanging above an empty pool or the gap between a half-finished building and the grass patch next to it, seem to reference another local use of the word krysha: when you “lose your mind”.

By mixing playfulness with serious thinking, archival and conceptual photography with an unusual aesthetic, Istomina establishes herself as a unique emerging talent.

Self-portrait.

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