“The author does not claim to reveal the result of a large-scale study of the “mysterious Russian soul” in this album. These pictures, which were taken in the early eighties of the past century in a small district center and in the surrounding villages, bear witness to the author’s personal relationship to life’s realities at that time.
A tiny fragment of that reality, this album will not show you several elements of socialist life, such as its political, ideological and military features, space research, the great constructions of the century… But was any of these characteristic of the Russian countryside and its quiet provincial life? I’d say rather not than yes. At that time we were not fully aware of the striking changes and achievements of the “developed socialism”. And it was primarily because of our provincialism that we did not become dissidents either. I, as an amateur photographer, wanted to capture at that time the true image of people living around me, without unnecessary complexity, prejudice and hypocrisy, those fundamental, true, even if not always sound features which bind together the generations in Russia. May the viewer, browsing the album, take the irony of the author not as an end in itself, but as an element of the decorum loci. After all, in those years of half-truth, the only remedy against lies was irony.
Today my long-standing wish has been fulfilled with this album. You will judge whether successfully or not. Twenty-five years have passed since then. And as the saying goes – all is more visible from a distance.”
Alexandr Kalion: Russians. The province in the early 1980s, 2006
“For me, the early 1980s were the time of youth and the period of great changes. I saw how the past is going to leave us, and although I had taken photos of it for a while, so to speak, from the outside, but I also wanted to capture it from inside. I tried to capture the typical characteristics of the people around me. I scanned them with my genetic memory: is this person similar to someone I previously saw in my dream or in the past? Does he look like a figure from a story or a fairy tale I used to read? It was not important, exactly what kind of memories awakened in me, but to feel that at its sight as if it were a feather tickled my heart: and then I immediately pressed the button.
Wherever I went, the camera was always hanging upon my elbow, the shutter cocked, the exposure set, the distance – three or four meters… And in the gray streets of everyday life of the street suddenly something flashes. You cannot hesitate – shoot! And then you are terribly excited: was the exposure okay? did you catch him in the field? did your hand not shake? And finally, incredibly, but as a rule, among the lots of blurry and overexposed photos there was this one, so necessary to you – a perfect beauty.
At that time I watched only a few photos, and I was not even interested who what and especially how takes photos. I did not study this craft, and had no models. Only one photographer had an impression on my vision: Ian Berry. After becoming acquainted with his album “The English,” I started to write on the back of the photos selected by me a little latin R: R as Russians. And I did not trust this little secret to anybody.
I do not wish to raise in the viewer empathy or nostalgia for that period. The figures live together with me on the pictures: they are happy, sad, angry or kind, and only rarely you see that tragic martyr-face which has by now become such a well-established photographer’s cliche to sink your heart and to bring forth a cheap tear from your eye..”
“Russia! Russia! I see you, I see you from my wonderful, beautiful far away: how wretched, scattered and uncomfortable everything is about you. Everything in you is open, empty and flat; your low cities imperceptibly stick out of the plains like little dots, like little marks; nothing captivates and nothing charms the eye.
But what is this inscrutable, mysterious force that draws me to you? Why do my ears ring unceasingly with your plaintive song, that carries through all your length and breadth, from ocean to ocean. What is in it, in that song? Why does if so beckon, and sob and tug at the heart? What are those sounds that caress so painfully, steal into my soul and hover about my heart: Russia! What is it you want of me? What is the hidden inscrutable tie that binds us? Why do you gaze like that,. and why is it that everything in you has turned to gaze at me with eyes full of expectation?
And yet I stand here motionless, full of bewilderment, and my head is already: overshadowed by thunderclouds, heavy with imminent rains, and my mind is numb before your vast spaces, What does this immense expanse portend? Is it not here, in you. that thought without end should be born, since you yourself are without end? Terrible is the embrace in which this mighty expanse holds me, terrible the force with which it strikes me to the very core; supernatural the power with which it lights up my vision: Ah! What a sparkling, wonderous expanse, vaster than any there is on earth! Russia!”
Nikolai Gogol, Dead Souls, 1835, the epilogue of Alexander Kalion’s photo album