NATALYA REZNIK. SECRETS
by Steve Bisson


I have been in a dialogue with photographer and art historian Natalya Reznik for some years now. I am grateful for her editorial contributions that have increased my interest in the Russian scene and also for her paper that was  included in the catalog of the exhibition ‘Experience of Space - Landscape in Photography’ that I curated for the Museum of Contemporary Art in Novi Sad. Pleasant and instructive ,describes  the course 'Photography and Time’, which she has held for the Fotodepartament of St. Petersburg, and in which the students were asked to think about a question well summed up by Natalya «A photographer collects fragments of reality like Noah in his ark, saving them from disappearance in the Flood of Time.» Time is central in her thinking, as much as in her doctoral thesis 'Aging in photography - forms of representation’ and in many of her photographic investigations.  This framework also includes 'Secrets’, her first monograph, published in only 50 precious copies.

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‘Secrets’ tells us about a common childhood game in the USSR. Each girl made a small pit in the ground where she would  hide a “treasure” which was covered by a fragment of broken glass and buried into the ground. The project portrays Russian women who were repatriated to Germany in the years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and  what that boundary has meant. These now grown-up girls have staged the game for Natalya, who has also moved to Germany to complete her doctorate.This book is an opportunity to deepen a topic: photography in relation to the production of memory. I wonder how  memory looked before the possibility of recording reality as a back up, when the past was much more volatile, and it was not so obviously  refreshing  memories from a more or less virtual  family album. Were we more present in the present moment? Or maybe we had less memories? How many things do we want to save today? And from where does this will of appropriation and consequently of prevarication come from in the human? Is it is a survival instinct?

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Plato suggested that knowing is remembering and there would be no “I” without memory, or that sphere of belonging that we recognize as our own. There would be no outside world if memory would not combine our succession of visions, which would otherwise remain shows, unconnected appearances. There is a kind of desire not to exclude our experience from the world. From the family we were born, the earth and roots, the language we use, emotions and all that set of acquisitions that give shape to our biography,we received the imprint that makes us unique and unmistakable. This leads us to reflect on the fact that technology has expropriated our memory. We no longer strive to remember because the memory is outside of us, filed in some system. The ‘game of secrets’ instead contemplates the possibility of materializing memories.

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One other issue is that the memory, for the above mentioned reasons, is the source from which to draw our truth, in an intimate dimension or secret, to quote Natalya. «Girls have more close and intimate relationships, play, often, only the two together near home, share their emotional experience, fears and dreams». And it is good that it stays that way, because even  memories are consumed, corroded in their iteration. And so we come to another question: what happens when our truth does not coincide with the truth of others? When the common experience becomes a battleground and no matter what there was between us before, anything can happen again.

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Within this year falls the centenary of the First World War. A war just prior to what evoked indirectly Natalyas’ search. There is undoubtedly a great proliferation of opportunities for memory. Which is  so for the 'Great War’, as they call it in my country, Italy, where it was fought and where people were massacred for real, and later buried in cemeteries, ossuaries, monuments and memorials.  Road signs direct tourists as a form of reminescence. Here the mountains are a ‘gruyere’ of trenches, holes, ruins and relics of all sorts. The windows of the libraries are filled with stories of veterans and scholars. There is a great partnership in looking back with suggestive commemorations that may tempt in a way. I will not enter into the role of propaganda and mass manipulation of thought, created with the best of intentions, but which led to a second world war. Less 'great’ and that people around here remember less willingly.

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With this slight premise, I groped to better understand the time in which I live. A time in which our past is shared almost instantaneously and with the suspicion that it can be removed quickly. Everything becomes accessible but not for long. The memory is no longer the place of thoughts that speak of us, but a stock of transfiguring images. And thus deprived of a recognizable past we become pawns with good humor, who get up in the morning and go to the slaughterhouse to exterminate the “infidels”. And there are magazines, newspapers, websites that spread and support this vision, made of new myths, new tools that promise to better scrutinize eternity. Does it still makes sense then to bury parts of us, where no one can find us? Can we find doubts, fears, or at least an opportunity to think of what at that time we did not understand? I say yes. But let’s also do it within ourselves. Only if we understand who we are, then we can say that we love ourselves, that is different from loving the idea that we made of ourselves.

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From this kind of comparison comes a therapy of those ideas, sometimes harmful, that we have of the world, of our next and of ourselves.  This capacity refers to the possibility of  self-observation. It is no coincidence that Natalya is also depicted in the book through her self-portrait. The game itself constitutes a common memory. So then the work of Natalya teases the issue of 'what it means to understand a human being’, entering one’s own world. Natalya accomplishes this with caution. The people are portrayed in a gentle way, often from behind or from the side, not ever confronting their eyes. Like their memories that lie behind a thin veil their appearance is suspended. The warmth of their stories is kept in secret. 

INFO:

SECRETS is published in an edition of only 50 copies and is available exclusively from25books 

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LINKS 
Natalya Reznik 
Russia