Roxana Savin challenges domestic ideals, and the pressure to conform to gendered expectations

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In 2012, Savin and her family relocated to a gated expatriate community in Russia. Her latest photobook visualises the loss of self she experienced during this shift into a heavily gendered society

“It was situated in a remote area outside Moscow,” says Romanian-born photographer Roxana Savin. “Fenced, 24-hour security, all self-contained with a gym, swimming pool, school, grocery store, and beauty salon.” Savin is describing her home of eight years, a “golden cage” community of expatriate families moving to Russia from across the world. Savin and her family moved there in 2012, to support her husband’s job. “In a majority of cases, Men were breadwinners, and women, who left their careers, became housewives.”

From the series I'll be late tonight, © Roxana Savin.

Savin’s self-published photobook, I’ll be late tonight, documents the photographer’s time in the community. “I have a law degree and worked as a legal adviser. I took time off when we had children, but returning to my job was impossible.” Work permits are rarely granted to the spouse (or “dependant”) of the visa-holder. Savin found herself isolated, part of a group of women reinventing their lives in this new strictly gendered space.

“I struggled with a loss of identity due to the confinement,” She explains. Savin was searching for a fulfilment, a purpose that could keep her grounded and fulfilled. She eventually found this in the Fine Art School of Photography, Moscow. “In 2016, I met the founder and asked him if I could join photography lessons. I was accepted as a student, and attended courses over the next two years, traveling from the residence to the city,”  she explains. With her newfound love, Savin continued the pursuit, completing a masters in the UK in 2020.

From the series I'll be late tonight, © Roxana Savin.

“Making this series was therapy, a way to make sense of that time in my life,” she adds. “We were supposed to leave Russia in 2019 for my husband’s job, but chose to stay so I could complete the book,” she explains. “These feelings are not discussed – women face expectations to be caregivers and homemakers, with an ‘appropriate’ feminine behaviour constantly being displayed.” Savin recalls administration-run beauty salons trips. “I felt pressured to conform to a stereotypical gender role, which put a disproportionate emphasis on beauty as essential to womanhood, and on the role of women as mothers and homemakers.”

From the series I'll be late tonight, © Roxana Savin.

The home is most often seen as a place of safety, security, and warmth. This is a far cry from the coldness found in I’ll be late tonight. There is a hanting liminality to the images, many families leaving their homes unfurnished, their stay only temporary. Domestic interiors become hostile and claustrophobic; open white spaces and barren exteriors make the town feel alien. Savin toys with this alienation, subverting her role as homemaker. Her village is unwelcoming, uncomfortable, and uneasy.

“As a housewife, I felt invisible,” Savin recalls. “I didn’t know where the book was going to take me, I acted upon a feeling that I had to make the work. I had to admit some uncomfortable truths to myself.” Savin remade herself, creating a new identity under the title of artist. “This is my most personal work so far,” she continues. “I’m interested in photography as a form of resistance and agency.”

From the series I'll be late tonight, © Roxana Savin.
Isaac Huxtable

Isaac Huxtable joined the British Journal of Photography in October 2020, where he is currently the Editorial Assistant. Prior to this, he studied a BA in History of Art at the Courtauld Instititue of Art, London.