Nadia Sablin

Nadia Sablin(b. 1980, USSR), earned a BFA from the Rochester Institute of Technology in 2002 and an MFA from Arizona State University in 2011. A freelance photographer based in Brooklyn, New York, Sablin has received the Firecracker Photographic Grant, a New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship, a Puffin Foundation Grant, and was named one of the Magenta Foundation’s Emerging Photographers. Her work has been featured in such publications as the New York Times, the Guardian, the Financial Times, Slate, The New Yorker, American Photo, the Calvert Journal, and WPO’s The Magazine. Nadia Sablin’s photographs have been seen in solo and group exhibitions across the US, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Southeast Museum of Photography, the Cleveland Museum of Art, Bellevue College in Washington, and Texas Woman’s University School of Art. In 2015 Sablin received the Center for Documentary Studies/Honickman First Book Prize in Photography.  Her first monograph Aunties will be published in November 2015.  Today, we look at work from this series.  

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For the last seven years I have spent each summer with my father’s two older sisters, who live in a small village in Russia. In this time with them I’ve been working on a photographic series Aunties, detailing the women’s lives. Having spent their youth in big cities, after retirement the sisters came back to their childhood home. Alevtina and Ludmila are in their seventies, but they are choosing to return to the traditional way of life, chopping wood for heating the house, bringing water from the well and making their own clothes. The vegetables the sisters harvest in the fall and the berries they gather in the summer supplement the meager pensions on which the elderly subsist in Russia.

My photographs are an exploration of two women’s reliance on each other, ancestral tradition and land as a means of survival. The house in which Alevtina and Ludmila live was built by their father. The rugs were woven by their mother. They contribute to the home as well, with new wallpapers, hand-sewn curtains, quilts and lace. Handwritten recipes are folded to contain seeds for planting, or rolled up balls of stray hair. The meticulously weeded garden sprouts flowers among the strawberries and onions.   Their rural environment is as much a character as they are themselves. The project is a meditation on aging, family and a sense of belonging.

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My memories of spending time with my aunts as a child play a large role in the images I record now, following the rituals that have come down from several generations and which are becoming lost in much of Russia. As I continue to photograph, year after year, my images grow more intimate and less deliberate, moving away from a directorial approach of re-interpreting memories to collaboration with my aunts on the creation of new ones. The resulting photographs are a blend of observation, performance, and autobiographic exploration.

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To view more of Nadia’s work, visit her website.