These photographs by Oksana Yushko from ‘Kenozero Dreams’ are an uplifting document of life in the far North East of Russia, in the Arkhangelsk region, a place of vast wilderness, forests and small hamlets.
Yushko, a Muscovite, travelled to the area to explore the natural beauty of the region and found a place that had been devastated by the closure of the logging mills, its villages lacking basic amenities and a rural population eking out a living on subsistence farming, fishing and hunting or fleeing the countryside for a better life in the cities.
However, after spending some time in the region she came to realise that she was amongst a strong, resilient community full of stories, shared values and dreams like any other, a people still holding on to hope despite the huge unemployment levels, deprivation and awful social conditions, a people living in a place surrounded by natural beauty and in tune with the wonder of life.
For Yushko it was a revelation, the fact that people could live happily, simply and with dreams that went beyond the material, beyond fame and fortune, dreams that fed their soul and kept the fire within their bellies lit. The journey to Kenozero also opened up her eyes to the the vast social, economic and cultural gulf that lies between the urban dwellers of Russia and their rural counterparts, a divide that is ever widening as the country falls deeper into a consumerist mire of corruption, violence and materialistic greed.
This series of pictures has much to teach all of us, each photograph a window into a life that many of us would shun, reject, yet is shown here to be more resilient, more resistant to the inequalities and injustices of our own plastic world of artifice and materialism, a life that is in communion with the earth and has a deep well from which all can drink, be nourished.
In 2010 Yushko won the Conscientious Portfolio Competition. One of the jurors, Susanna Brown Curator of Photographs at the Victoria and Albert Museum, had this to say about her work:
Oksana Yushko’s project Kenozero Dreams reveals both the beauty and banality of life for the inhabitants of Kenozero in Northern Russia. We glimpse a place that has remained relatively unchanged for decades and an atmosphere of longing, of waiting. The landscape and portrait images are equally evocative, but for me the most memorable photograph in this series depicts two teenagers in a field, collecting flowers in the twilight haze. Dressed in modern clothes they carry out an ancient pagan rite. The boy’s gaze is transfixed, balancing a delicate wreath of flowers on his baseball cap he stares into the gloaming, and perhaps into his own future.
Yushko is also a member of a photography collective called Verso Images, whose mission is to document the ongoing social changes in Russia, so if you’re interested in seeing more from this intriguing country then check them out.