NATALYA REZNIK. LOOKING FOR MY FATHER
by Polina Shubkina



© Natalya Reznik, still of the photobook 'Looking for my father', 2016
 
When and how did you develop an idea for the 'Looking for my father' project?

Natalya Reznik (NR): I took part in the online course Overcoming Photography organized by Nadya Sheremetova in Fotodepartment Foundation (St-Petersburg, Russia). This project started from “the encounter with photography" assignment. Participating artists had to pick a personally meaningful photograph, to reflect why is it so important for them, and eventually to rework it.

I chose a picture of my young happy parents together because it has always been with me in my wallet. That’s a small 3x4 cm old picture from a photo machine. The story of our family is quite common. My mother met my father in Sochi (USSR). The “resort affair” quickly led to marriage. She did not know much about him, only that he was a captain and worked somewhere in northern Russia. They never lived together. He usually would spend a few weeks with her and then disappear for a long time before coming back.

At some point, my mother found out that he had another wife and a child. She could never forgive him, and soon they divorced. I was three years old the last time I saw him. I do not have any image of him in my memory. So I decided to work with this personal traumatic experience using the medium of photography. I was trying to “find” my father creating memories which I never had — memories about a happy family with my dad around.


Natalya Reznik, "Looking for my father", photobook, 2016

What differs this body of work from your previous projects? Is it your first experience of creating an artistic narrative based on your personal life?

NR: No, it isn't my first experience of addressing personal life in artistic practice. For many years I’ve been working on the series Aging about my grandmother Nadezda Pavlovna. It is still an ongoing project, and now I am starting to work on the photo book based on it. My granny is now 92, and she lives with my mother in our hometown Perm, Russia. She is almost blind and can not hear properly. Unfortunately, her Alzheimer disease is getting worse nowadays, and sometimes she even doesn’t recognize her relatives. But during the shooting, we’ve had some funny moments. Sometimes she likes to pose for me, and it's almost like a game when she is in the mood. My mother has been taking care of her for many years, so the grandmother is never alone. But she still feels lonely. I tried to reflect the controversial feelings and moments of our life in the series.

The series about my granny is a classic documentary project. Whereas the Looking for my father project is fictional, yet based on the true story, where the figure of my idealized father is constructed. I made the collages combining our family album pictures with the photos of cinema “icons” such as Alain Delon or Jean-Paul Belmondo.




© Natalya Reznik, from the series 'Aging', 2011

What are your current relationships with your mother? What was her reaction to your photographic series and the way you deal with personal trauma?
 

NR: Our relationships are good enough. We talk via Skype every day; she loves her newborn granddaughter very much. I gave my mother a copy of the Looking for my father photo book as a Christmas present this year, and she liked it. “The dreams come true,” she said. But I think she perceives the whole project as a game I am playing. That’s not far from the reality, though, there is a playful, humorous component. But there is much more to it, than just a game and irony.

What was the initial goal of this project? Could you please tell us about the rules you created while working on it? How long you have been working on it and when did you decide that the series are complete?

NR: Initially, I had no “goal”, I was producing the work that felt “right”. Now, looking back, I understand that the aim was self-therapeutic. The rules were simple - I used photos from our family album and found pictures of actors on the Internet (their private pictures as well as film stills). The project became a melting pot for all of these images - I made collages in Photoshop and constructed a new narrative, creating a brand-new family album which represents the memory “I was longing for”. 


© Natalya Reznik, from the series 'Looking for my father', 2013

It took me about a year to finalize it, and two years to produce a photo book. During this time I became pregnant, my first child was born and I self-published the book only when my daughter was already one year old. It was an excellent time to think about all these issues - parenthood, motherhood; because when you are becoming a parent yourself, you start to recall and reconsider your childhood. You begin to look at it from a very different point of view. For instance, the issue of “perfection” and “idealization” of parents by children, that being one of the themes which I bring up in my book (thanks to the blogger Christer Ek, who brought out this point in his review for "Looking for my father" ).

Did working with your family archive make you feel nostalgic? What is your most treasured memory captured in one of these photographs?

NR: I wouldn’t say that I felt nostalgic. You feel nostalgic when you have a desire to return in “the good old days” when one idealizes the past. Of course, there were moments of happiness in my childhood, but there were a lot of hard times as well. When one has already overcome so many obstacles, one never wants to be back.
 
The most treasured memory? I think the most touching and important for me is a photo on which the whole family is together around the dinner table - my mother, grandmother, me and my “father” (Alain Delon). This photo not only seems the most familiar and natural to me but also it is an iconic “ritual” photo from a family album, which is made according to the visual canons of amateur photography. It is a birthday dinner party. All generations are present, everyone smiles loves each other and seems happy. That is what I consider the representation of a "happy family". Of course, I know that the photo is not real, but is every photo in any family album which represents a “happy family” true? Probably, not. “A happy family” quite frequently has to be constructed for a family portrait - with or without the help of Photoshop.


© Natalya Reznik, still of the photobook 'Looking for my father', 2016
 

© Natalya Reznik, from the series 'Looking for my father', 2013

Why did you choose to manipulate the faces of Jean-Paul Belmondo, Alain Delon, Marcello Mastroianni and Jean Marain into your old family photographs to create an idealized family?

NR: My mother was always dreaming of the ideal man. When we were watching the 60s and 70s movies with French and Italian actors (Belmondo, Delon, Mastroianni, Marais), she often would tell me: “I always liked that kind of men.” In her photo albums there were almost no pictures of my father left — not only did she divorce him, but she also destroyed all the photos of him including those from their wedding day. However, I was able to find a few images from an old black and white photo machine. They were together in these photos. However, it 's hard to see his face, the images are quite small, and he wears aviator glasses. And he did look like a young Belmondo! So, the "casting" for my father's "role" in the project was easy, among others, he had to be played, by Jean-Paul Belmondo!


© Natalya Reznik, still of the photobook 'Looking for my father', 2016

What is your concept of an ideal family?

NR: I constructed the traditional narrative of our possible happy family life. And the narrative in my fictional family album looks quite classical - first meeting of my young parents at the beautiful romantic place by the sea, mail correspondence, marriage, birth of a child, a child is growing up surrounded by tender and caring mother and father. It looks quite familiar and even banal, doesn’t it?

Russian writer Leo Tolstoy once wrote that «All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way» (quote from his book Anna Karenina). So, I created the story of an average happy family which is known to everyone. I wouldn’t say that my life without a father was completely unhappy, but of course, as a kid, I dreamed about an ideal and stable family, with both parents around.

My mother had to work on two jobs to support us, and I would see her only late at night. Consequently, I spent a lot of time with my elderly grandparents (we lived together in one flat). At that time, my grandparents already had some serious health issues. Our life was not easy. And the project 'Aging' also appeared not accidentally, I have been very close to my grandparents, and I understood their problems very well.


© Natalya Reznik, from the series 'Aging', 2011

Are there any projects that you are working on at the moment and can you tell us about your plans for the future?

NR: Currently, I am working on my third photo book 'Aging' about my grandmother. The next project I have in mind is a series about motherhood. It goes without saying, that this dramatically new experience - becoming a mother can cause an identity crisis in a woman. I experienced something of that sort. After the euphoria of the first few weeks of my motherhood was over, I went through a serious postnatal depression. I asked myself if I am just a shell of my former self. Who am I now? I felt like a discarded cocoon. Of course, I realized that my life would never be the same as used to, and I don’t expect or want it to be, I love my daughter very much. But sometimes I have a feeling that I completely lost myself. I need to build/find my personal identity again. The series will focus on the exploration of these controversial emotions, and I already can imagine the outcome. Another project touching on the idea of family issues. I think that family is an unavoidable topic for me, every time I see it from another perspective, but always relying on my personal experience.

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INFO BOOK
'Looking for my father'
Natalya Reznik
2016
self published
200 signed copies
96 pages, 13×21 mm (8,2 x 5,1 inches)
Read more here


LINKS
Natalya Reznik  
urbanautica Russia