Photo project

Mom Bought Me a Horsey: Parents as Children in Tetiana Nikitina’s Project

The parents of photographer Tetiana Nikitina used to sew holiday rabbit and snowflake costumes for her and her brother. Now Tania sews odd costumes for them — not to celebrate any holidays but to take family photos and enjoy their time together.
Tetiana Nikitina

Ukrainian photographer

— My parents were my first ever models. I started photography during lockdown, when the whole world was closed. On top of that, I was too shy to ask the people I know to pose for me. So all the photoshoots took place first at home, and in spring, in the village my parents live in. I started going there. There are almost no people there — no one around to make one shy.

My parents moved to the country from Kyiv when my grandad passed away, which was at the beginning of the pandemic. They initially only went for the spring and summer but then got themselves some chicken and geese and decided they no longer wanted to come back to the big city. When I visited, I first took photos of chicken, cats, or whatever I could find in the shed. Whenever I came, I would beg my parents to let me photograph them, but it was a long time until they finally agreed.

They didn’t want to because, firstly, ‘what will people think?’, and secondly, they hardly had any time: there’s always a lot of work in the country. Eventually mom was the first to agree to pose for me for my project with angels, and six months later, dad agreed too when he saw how happy and excited I was about the photos. I think they supported me because they realized I didn’t try to mock them in any way. There were also many positive comments on social media, which inspired them.

Mom and dad’s costumes, looks, and faces in the photos (they don’t smile) are a reference to the costumes that parents make their kids right before events. They dress their children up as snowflakes, rabbits, squirrels, or, for Halloween, even stranger creatures, ask them to stand there and smile, and the kids are uncomfortable and shy but still pose.

It’s like a game where you recreate the past: my parents used to make costumes for me before, and now I do it for them. And the whole thing still is, just as it was before, sweet and funny. The only difference is that it’s no longer the kids who are uncomfortable but the parents. It’s also about the communication between parents and children. You know, our parents worked a lot but always found time to make costumes for me and my brother. Now I’m an adult with a pretty busy schedule, and I don’t live with my parents but love them dearly and will always find time to come visit and take nice photos with them as my models.

It’s like a game where you recreate the past: my parents used to make costumes for me before, and now I do it for them.

I plan all the costumes and looks beforehand: what my parents are going to wear, where they are going to stand and in what poses, what the colors are going to be. I sketch everything and write down the details in my notebook. First I ordered costumes but then learned how to sew to do everything myself.

When I started selling the photos, I have all the money to my parents, so photography became a source of income for them. I am very proud that they took this giant step and opened up.

“I’m in Portugal now, and my parents are in a village near Prague. But they are going to come back to Ukraine soon, so it’ll be hard to come visit and work with them. When I went to them to Czechia, I took three photos for the series. It turned out to be quite hard because finding the materials in a foreign country is difficult and expensive at that. On the other hand, mom and dad painted, glued, and put together the costumes themselves. I wanted them to take a break from the news. Dad made himself a tractor, and mom created a flower.

Mom and dad painted, glued, and put together the costumes themselves. I wanted them to take a break from the news.

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