Nadezhda Ermakova’s latest book is an intimate and fantastical story based on her son’s dreams of becoming a bird

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Moved by her son’s recollection of his dreams, in her latest photobook Ermakova illustrates a story about a boy and his friend who transform into birds

Nadezhda Ermakova’s An Ordinary Story takes her relationship with her son Fedor, and his relationship with wildlife – more specifically birds – as its premise. The idea for the book was spurred one winter, after she was inspired to shoot a video in Fedor’s room for the home archives. “He began to tell me word-for-word about his dreams,” she says. “We lay on the floor and looked up, and at some point I realised what he was telling me. All his dreams were about birds. Each dream was a continuation of the previous… I was stunned.”

An Ordinary Story, the winner of this year’s SELF PUBLISH RIGA photobook dummy award, is based on this exchange: a simple yet insightful conversation between mother and son. In the book, Fedor recounts his dreams, taking the reader through a fantastical narrative revolving around a boy and his friend who, after transforming into birds, travel across Russia visiting cafes and relatives. There is a magic realism to the story that is at once earthly and surreal. We follow the pair as they gather their material possessions, find food to eat, defend themselves against archenemys and rockets, and befriend a mysterious snowy owl. 

The text sits alongside images of Fedor acting out his dreams, spreading his arms as he runs through fields of long grass. The subtle beauty of the surrounding countryside and wildlife is captured in a mix of landscape shots and close-ups of local flora and fauna. These are laid out in an entrancing design that was achieved with the help of Japanese book-maker Kazuma Obara, who worked together with Ermakova to create a book that radiates nostalgia. Yellow-tone pages, a simple aesthetic, and a cover bearing Fedor’s childlike illustrations tie into the essence of the story itself. A feeling of human connection permeates its pages, speaking to the intimate bond between mother and child. “It was a new form of communication,” recalls Ermakova. “We learned to cooperate and understand each other on some other level and I am sincerely grateful to him that he trusted me.”

In a sense, the book is both a study of Fedor’s completely ordinary desires to dream, to grow, and to explore – desires that are shared by all children – and a tribute to the qualities that make him unique. “My son’s a special guy. He was a very thoughtful and slow child and it always seemed that he was very far away,” says Ermakova. “He loves all animals, birds and insects, and they reciprocate. When we walk in the forest or in the fields, he’s always surrounded by butterflies and dragonflies and they calmly sit on him. He can even take them in his hands and they don’t fly away.” The photobook reflects on Fedor’s beautifully strong attachment to the natural world and the ways in which, from time to time, the natural world forms an attachment to him. 

Daniel Milroy Maher

Daniel Milroy Maher is a London-based writer and editor specialising in photographic journalism. His work has been published by The New York Times, Magnum Photos, Paper Journal, GUP Magazine, and VICE, among others. He also co-founded SWIM Magazine, an annual art and photography publication.