Russia-born photographer Nadia Sablin uses the medium to investigate “the relationship between documentary and fictional storytelling and explores the larger world through close personal narratives”. An example of this is Together and Alone a poignant series she completed as a graduate thesis project while studying an MFA at Arizona State University. The result is a series of photographs that stunningly document life in a way that is familiar, but still leave you with a sense of something peculiar.
When Nadia first arrived in Arizona she “set about exploring this new alien location through portraiture,” she tells It’s Nice That. “I met people through Craigslist, on campus and asked people to introduce me to their friends.” By leaving the process of finding subjects up to fate, “the project became a project slowly, intuitively, almost serendipitously,” she says. “Twins, doubles and repetitions started to appear in front of my lens, although I was not looking for them. It gave me an idea of a second potential self.”
From living a second chapter of her life in America, leaving her native home of Russia at the age of twelve, Nadia explains that the experience “had very nearly divided my life into two completely separate parts”. Consequently, the photographer began to wonder “who I would have become if my family never left, or left Russia earlier, giving me an American childhood,” she says. “I worked in the former Soviet Union over the summer and shot in Phoenix for the rest of the year, searching for a way to reinterpret myself as an adult without losing the magic of childhood, stitching together the two halves of my personality.”
As a result, “the project is about women, about family, loving and loneliness, about what holds us together and what separates from each other,” explains Nadia. “And the perpetual longing for something that could have been. As a Russia-born artist, I closely relate to the format of the fairy tale…”
The air of a fictional fairy tale is a concept evident in Nadia’s artist statement that accompanies the work. The piece identifies the occurring doubles that feature in her photographs which are often siblings, but also her own feeling towards the alternative life she could have had if her family had not moved: “| was conceived, mistakenly, as a twin, although nobody knew this but me,” the opening of the statement says. “We parted ways in 92, when I was brought to greener pastures, great-grandmother’s pillows and iron skillet in tow. Our life packed in six check-in suitcases, three carry ons. I was alone here in your new world, so I tried to replicate her, mould her out of my mother, out of American girls, out of mirrors… With my trap, I wait for her to appear there, and if I’m quick enough, if I press the button at the right moment, none of this will be real. We will be together again, she and I, conspirators, sisters, laughters, of derisive laughter, whole.”