Irina Popova’s 10 Favorite Photographs

Irina chose ten especially meaningful photos from her archives. They reflect the uniqueness of a human's life, emotions and relationships.

Irina Popova, 28

Born in Tver, studied journalism at Tver State University, has worked as a correspondent for regional newspapers in Tver oblast since 2002. During this time she started doing photography, winning the gold medal in the “Photography” category four years in a row at the Delphi Games of Russia and the CIS. She covered the war in Georgia in 2008 and after that worked as a staff contributing correspondent for the magazine “Ogonyok,” simultaneously shooting photo reels to accompany her stories. She has been a student at the school of photography and multimedia since 2008. After her trip to Cuba in 2009, she presented an exhibition along with publishing the book, “Cuba is Near.” Winner of the “Photographer of the Year” contest in the category “Photostory.” Has been a participant in international festivals such as Les Recontres d’Arles, Noorderlicht, Breda Photo and the Volga Photo-biennial. She held a personal exhibition, “LTP,” in 2011 at the Aranapoveda Gallery in Madrid. Has lived in Amsterdam since 2010.

— Choosing my favorite photos is simple and complicated at the same time. There are shots that, throughout the years, are still very close to your heart. More often than not they’re difficult and there’s something inside of them that hurts and cowers. They’re about the diversity and uniqueness of a human’s life, emotions and relationships. They’re about the contents of a soul. The selection is a fleeting phenomenon. Tomorrow I’ll do a completely different cut than today from my archives.

There is too much of the absurd around us. The only cure for it is to notice it, separate it from everyday life and show it. There is so little love, warmth and understanding in the world. If a photography could generate these feelings within people, within its viewers… Yet, as Sontag says, we can’t force the viewer to empathize even with a man falling from a window of the Twin Towers.

This shot has a special meaning to me. It’s from the book “Another Family“. This is one of the photos that goes contrary to the usual interpretation of history. For some reason the editors chose a harder and more frightening picture, where the girl is alone on the windowsill. Following right behind her, her mother grabs her hand and pulls her from “the abyss.” Although, there is a safety net near the window.

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What’s very important to me are the pictures where I moved away from traditional composition and other people’s expectations, such as editors and judges. This seems strange and a little “punk” of me. I think that I grew up and eclipsed myself only when I was able to break the rules of composition in a meaningful way. Like when things and characters in the pictures become something bigger than they are in real life – forms, figures and metaphors.

This is Beslan, children who survived a tragedy, several years after the fact. They say that these children have a special relationship – they really understand the value of life and of each other. The most important things to me in this shot are the child’s head, like a round ball, under the others’ feet, the slither of bright-green grass, the dog, and even someone’s sleeve, which is a complete violation of compositional equilibrium, like a metaphor and a clue to the picture’s content.

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In this photo I participate not as a photographer, but as an unwitting observer of real life drama. Again, in this photo, the composition is absolutely insignificant to me, but the thin thread of human relationships, in which I play a part, is vital.

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In Cuba I accidentally walked into the first house I saw where I heard music playing and ended up at a children’s party where the children were behaving like adults after watching music videos. This island has a completely different culture, where sex is not associated with sin, suffering, punishment, emancipation or the cult of consumerism. I like this photo because it’s honest and because I was happy to be as close to it as I was.

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The family who I stayed with in Cuba took me in as if I were their own daughter. At night my bed was carefully covered with a mosquito net and, at five in the morning, grandma Victoria pulled it away and said “Cafesito?”, extending a thimble with a drink that was like a knife in your throat. I immediately grabbed the camera that was lying next to my pillow. This is an incredible glow from the window on the south (where it’s impossible to stay in bed after five in the morning) and two women (a mother and her daughter-in-law, whose spouse is a dissident and an adulterer) who, by a twist of fate, are living in the same house without any men.

{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/popova_05.jpg”, “alt”: “irina Popova”}

This picture is close to me because it recreates a fictional image of Russia. It’s a psychologist’s office in a children’s orphanage that shares a building with a museum in the far north of Krasnoyarsk. The psychologist put me up for a night in this office because I didn’t have enough money for a hotel, as usual. I slept on that couch and my jacket and backpack are in the shot, which violates the neutrality of photography but gives it a very personal touch. I remember how I wanted to hide myself in that corner of an imagined Russia every morning, not wanting to protrude outward from it.

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This shot is from my home town, and yet it portrays something completely unfamiliar, almost extraterrestrial. I don’t eat meat that comes from mammals; I can’t even stand to look at it. This terrible picture, with its frost, rickety fence and portable storefront, scares me with its unreal-ness. I left behind all my ideas of returning to this city a long time ago and recognize this territory as incompatible with life and development. Each time I return, it feels like I’m sitting on an interstellar ship to an empty, bare, unknown planet. And yet, I find a horrible fascination in it all. This picture is meaningful to me because I realized the existence of such a place only when I became a real photographer, constantly searching for adventure and trying to get out of my comfort zone for the purpose of higher knowledge.

{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/popova_07.jpg”, “alt”: “irina Popova”}

This salesman on an electric train looks like John Lennon. Now, instead of flying plastic propellers and miracle-blades, John Lennon sells candles on an electric train. These visual images hint towards the changes taking place in public life.

{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/popova_08.jpg”, “alt”: “irina Popova”}

Once I was asked about which photo I would never show to anyone, and I described this one from memory (I was so ashamed that I took a picture of my own grandmother looking helpless and unflattering, while my mother was washing her in a hospital shower). Now, I return to this photo with completely different feelings and am actually proud of it. I seems like she has a beautiful body, unflappable optimism and a great sense of humor. This shot was taken during the making of a documentary, when my grandma was talking about the only man she ever had in her life (my grandpa) who cheated on her her whole life and passed away quite young, and she didn’t even think about finding someone else. Grandma was just gorgeous and I believe that she still is. I have been fascinated with grandma’s chest since I was a child. I think that in today’s culture we have a perverse attitude towards old age, caused by fear and narrow-mindedness.

{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/popova_8a.jpg”, “alt”: “irina Popova”}

I met my child-self again in a Siberian city. The chronotope closed in. I walked up to this little girl, hugged her, patted her on the head and said, “Don’t be afraid, everything will work out for you.” Then I asked if I could take a picture of her. That tree in the picture is a divider between two worlds: the little girl’s magical world and the world of everyday life and garbage, where people who could hurt her or simply not understand her live. The brick at her feet probably means something as well, but I can’t wrap my head around it. Like pieces of a dream that are accidentally usual.

{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/popova_10.jpg”, “alt”: “irina Popova”}

If it hadn’t been for this pursuit of a great photo, I wouldn’t have survived and wouldn’t have seen even a tenth of what fate has shown me in life. A photographer’s life is full of vagrancy, uncertainty and guilt. On the other hand, it’s also filled with unexpected wonders and the most impossible adventures. If you were to explain this in words, others would have thrown their hands up at you long ago and taken you for a madman. But, a photo has a certain power of attraction and is the most direct means of communicating the most fleeting complexities of existence.

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