Nadia Sablin, a native of Russia, earned a BFA from the Rochester Institute of Technology and an MFA from Arizona State University. She is a photographer, whose work investigates the relationship between documentary and fictional storytelling and explores the larger world through close personal narratives. She has received the Firecracker Photographic Grant, a New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship, a Puffin Foundation Grant, and the Peter S. Reed Foundation grant in Photography. Her work has been featured in such publications as the New York Times, the Guardian, the Moscow Times, Slate, The New Yorker, American Photo, and the Financial Times. Nadia Sablin’s photographs have been seen in solo and group exhibitions across the US, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Southeast Museum of Photography, Blue Sky Gallery in Oregon, the Cleveland Museum of Art, Bellevue College in Washington, and Texas Women’s University School of Art among others. As a recipient of Center for Documentary Studies/Honickman First Book Prize in Photography, Sablin’s first monograph, Aunties, was published by Duke University Press/CDS in November 2015.
Russianfoto: Can you tell us how the idea came to you?
Nadia Sablin: I had almost no contact with my aunts from the age of 12 to 28. My father talked to them weekly, so regards and birthday congratulations were passed through him. For me they were firmly in the past, inhabiting a place and a time I didn’t think I could ever connect with again.
It was a different project I was working on in Ukraine that pushed me to go looking for my childhood memories. I was in a wooden cheese-maker’s log cabin in the middle of the Carpathians, wondering why this remote, in some way exotic hut made me feel so strongly. The light and the atmosphere reminded me of my family’s home, where I had spent my first twelve summers. I wanted to go see it again then, to find out if it was really the way I remembered it and try to make some photographs there.
Russianfoto: How did your aunts react to the series?
Nadia Sablin: They said, “Why would you want to photograph these two old fools?” I don’t think they know how beautiful and unique they are. Here is a photo of them laughing at the first batch of prints I brought them. They do seem quite proud of the book, showing it to their friends and neighbours.
Russianfoto: Now that you live in Brooklyn, do you have a different way of looking back at life in rural Russia?
Nadia Sablin: I’ve lived in big cities all my life, so my aunts always inhabited a very different world than mine. When I used to come visit from Saint Petersburg, they were just as other as they are today.
Russianfoto: There’s a cinematic quality, I think, to the way you’ve reconstructed your aunts’ lives. Are you interested in exploring film or video?
Nadia Sablin: I have made a few short videos with my aunts. I really dislike the process of video editing, so I mainly work on stills. Here is a link to one of the experiments, a sort of extended photograph. https://vimeo.com/31991444
Russianfoto: Would you say there is a specifically Russian character to your work, beyond the subject matter?
Nadia Sablin: I think Russians tend to be romantics, with a strong affinity for symbolism and a penchant for magical thinking. I embrace that way of seeing when I photograph, pulling fairy tales, novels, and myths into my reality.
For more, piease visit http://www.nadiasablin.com/