“What does the space represent through its landscapes and traditions? What are the places that are familiar to me, but strange at the same time?” These are some of the questions that Russian photographer Ekaterina Vasilyeva asked herself while photographing the road between Saint Petersburg and Petergof: a route that is loaded with significance of both Russia’s history, and the photographer’s own identity.
Vasilyeva was born in Saint Petersburg in 1977, but from the age of 10, she has lived in the southwest of the city, in a residential area situated along the road to a town called Petergof. During her time at university in Saint Petersburg, Vasilyeva became fascinated by the 50 mile route. She discovered that the restaurant halfway along it lodged Catherine the Great in 1762, when she was fleeing from her husband Peter III who was overthrown as emperor of Russia. Later, while Vasilyeva was training to become a bibliographer at the University of Culture and Arts in Saint Petersburg, she discovered that the main treasure of the library was a text about the Petergof road.
Feeling tied to this history that was so embedded in the land that she had frequently trodden herself, in March 2015, Vasilyeva began working on Road to Petergof, a project that explores the historical significance of the road as well as its relation to her own identity. Earlier this year, Vasilyeva self-published the project, and was then shortlisted for the 2019 Kassel Dummy Award.
The aesthetic of Road to Petergof is nostalgic and, at times, melancholic. Shot in square format film and in cold colour tones, the path of the road subtly dominates each image, intending to symbolise the inevitable direction of the road of life. “I think long-term personal projects can say a lot about the character of the photographer and their attitude to life,” Vasilyeva reflects.
“I wanted to see my native city’s nature through the example of a small, but important area, and through the eyes of a citizen of the 21st century,” she continues. “I wanted to look at the changes that have happened to it during the time I lived there, and finally to understand for myself whether I agree with these changes or not.”