The Princess Book: Russian Women Style on “VKontakte” in a Project by Irina Popova
Photographer Irina Popova went on “VKontakte” and found more than a thousand of her complete namesakes, so she decided to gather them all along with their photos in the “Incomplete Princess Book,” a story about Russian women who want to become the best of the best from the cradle to the grave.
Born in Tver, graduated from Tver State University with a degree in journalism. Has worked as a correspondent for Tverskaya Oblast newspapers since 2002. Started doing photography around the same time and won the gold medal for photography at the Russia and CIS Dolphin Awards four years in a row. Covered the war in Georgia in 2008 and, after that, worked as a staff reporter for Ogonyok magazine while doing a photo series of her work at the same time. Has been a student of the Photography and Multimedia School since 2008. In 2009, after a trip to Cuba, her book Cuba is Near and an accompanying exhibition appeared. Winner of the “Photographer of the Year” contest in the “photostory” category. Participant in international photography festivals such as Les Rencontres d’Arles, Noorderlicht, Breda Photo and The Volga Photobiennial. Did a personal exhibition for her project LTP at the Aranapoveda Gallery in Madrid in 2011. Has lived in Amsterdam since 2010.
The story of the “Incomplete Princess Book” started several years ago when it first occurred to me how unoriginal the whole idea of a proper name is. Any person who tries to find my work on the Internet will find videos of belly dancing or simply an unending list of marry-able girls. So, I searched for myself in “VKontakte” and got 8,000 results from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Germany and the US.
It was difficult for me to deal with it at first, but later on I started getting interested in looking through my namesakes. I saved a few of their photographs and looked at them over again and again. At some point, they all started to merge into one image and I understood finally that all of the Irina Popovas were the collective image of a Russian woman with a looped composition and a shared fate, from the cradle to the grave.
Every girl dreams of being a princess and loves to show it off (by trying on a crown or posing on a pool table).
That was the starting point for choosing the photos: how do they want to see themselves (a view imposed on them by society and culture) and who do they actually become.
So, I decided to do a project about them. At first it was an exhibition that I called, “The Incomplete Princess Book.” We were working on it for three months with three assistants at an art residence in Amsterdam. We downloaded more than thirty-six thousand images and, from them, chose more than a thousand which ended up on the walls of the Hermitage-Amsterdam Museum, which is the namesake for the palace in St. Petersburg.
In our age of information supersaturation, work with images that already exist can be more interesting and productive than creating news ones. This allows me to be objective and to concentrate only on what people want to say about themselves.
When the selection was formed, I tried to connect with all of the people whose images showed up in our project. The majority of them were happy to participate. My own photos also appeared in the pages of the book. I didn’t put them in any special place, allowing them to merge together with the swath of other heroines.
A lot of websites and blogs use photos from social networks. These photos of unsuspecting users often become the object of ridicule by millions of people. However, this is one of the first times that public photos have become material for an art project and a photobook.
The princess book will always remain incomplete because, for one, their dreams will never be realized to the fullest extent.
And secondly, there are more and more princesses born every day, which means that a complete collection of their photos is just impossible.