‘Reflective nostalgia’: recreating a lost Russian childhood

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© Margarita Galandina.

This article is part of the Education collection, a series of interviews highlighting student and early career photographers. 

Through two graduate projects, Margarita Galandina reinterprets her Siberian heritage – blurring the line between the staged and the candid

When Margarita Galandina revisits well-loved places from her youth, the Russian artist is struck by how different they feel. On a practical level, the changing scale of the body relative to the world it inhabits creates new perspectives as children become adults. Returning to both rural Britain and Siberia, her ancestral home, Galandina also noticed that a sense of enchantment was missing, suffusing these intimate locations with newfound unfamiliarity.

For her BA project at Central Saint Martins, Galandina wanted to recapture the “natural curiosity and playfulness” of her childhood memories in the British woodlands. Depicting the artist’s friends at one with nature during lockdown, Hide and Seek references the popular children’s game. “I am originally from south-eastern Siberia, so the series was about recreating that feeling while being in a limited environment,” says Galandina. “I was recreating my memory, which is always going to be different from what I actually

Daydreaming. From the series Hide and Seek. © Margarita Galandina.

“The beautiful thing about photography is that it is always subjective. Once you realise that you can use it to substitute reality”

Hide and Seek has a fantastical feel, the photographs drenched in inky blacks. In one image, friends pose within the hollows of a 650-year-old oak tree, safely cocooned by its vast curves. Galandina plans many of her compositions using pencil drawings, her subjects’ bodies seemingly at one with nature, ebbing and following the wooded arcs that frame them. She cites her background in fashion photography and ballet as a natural influence on the roles her subjects take on.

One photograph references Hamlet’s Ophelia, and John Everett Millais’ 19th-century painting of the same name. Galandina’s former partner takes on the role, lying semisubmerged in water, surrounded by plant life. “Growing up, I was taught to look at images in a very classical way,” she says. “Ophelia was always a symbol of the woman, quite melancholic and powerless. But as you age, you interpret works of art differently, so I have tried to reunderstand it.”

In the hollow. From the series Hide and Seek. © Margarita Galandina.
Out the hollow. . From the series Hide and Seek. © Margarita Galandina.
Nomads. From the series Ovoo’ (timelessness). © Margarita Galandina.
Coffin bearers. From the series Ovoo’ (timelessness). © Margarita Galandina.

Galandina recently completed a photography MA at London College of Communication. Her graduate project Ovoo’ (timelessness) [pictured here] continues this exploration of memory and reality by restaging both colonial-era archive images and family photographs. The work addresses the Russian colonial expansion that impacted her Indigenous Siberian cultural identity. “It was about reinterpreting my family’s history, their geographical position and connection with the land, and Russian colonial history,” she says. “I see my homeland differently now I’m removed from it – a lot of people who emigrate know this feeling.” She started the project around the time of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. “[The work] became therapeutic for me,” she says, “but it has touched on the extended trauma.”

In both projects, Galandina addresses the impossibility of creating an objective image. She blurs distinctions between documentary and staged photography, and reality and memory. “I would be interested in going back to these places and taking a documentary approach,” she says, “but the beautiful thing about photography is that it is always subjective. Once you realise that you can use it to substitute reality.”

Familial looking. From the series Ovoo’ (timelessness). © Margarita Galandina.