InRussia

Youth

The Decay of Innocence in Arkhangelsk

In his photo essay Ilya Ocei explores the decaying wooden houses of Arkhangelsk’s Maimaksa and looks back on his own childhood, leaving his imprints on the deserted past.

 “Everyone I know who ever came to visit Arkhangelsk is startled by the erratic architectural contrasts. There it is common to see a newly built shopping mall on one of the central streets of the city and it would be surrounded with the neglected wooden houses, still ihabited. Those old wooden houses that have stood there for ages and nobody cares to look after them or take measures to remove them, they are everywhere.  

I never lived in a wooden house, but they were all around my apartment building, I would pass a block of them on my way to school, it was followed by a neat row of garages. It’s usually the old people who live in the houses. If one eventually gets taken down, nobody really knows what happens to those old people, they are moved to the very outskirts of the city, where there is no infrastructure. 

 There is nothing to do for a young person in Arkhangelsk, - there are no museums, no exhibitions or cultural spaces. People are not really involved in the arts or being creative in any way. Many of my friends draw graffiti and that’s probably the only genre of creative expression you can encounter. But as they get older and have to make big life decisions, they tend to give it all up for what’s considered to be a serious occupation. And it’s winter nine months of the year in Arkhangelsk, so everyone just sits at home, smokes, drinks and decays. 

 I studied at the University in Arkhangelsk for two years before I realized that there was no way I could go on doing this and decided drop out. Of course, my parents were in shock and kept asking me what I indented to do with my life. So I decided to pick something I actually like doing. 

I’ve been taking photographs here and there, like everyone else. And then one day my friend and I went into a flea shop and there were two cameras on sale there, one that cost fifteen rubles and wasn’t working properly and the other one was Japanese and cost thirty-five rubles, and it worked pretty well. I was interested in experimenting with film photography, so I bought it. I had to walk all the way home from the shop since I had spent all my travel fare on the camera. And then I started thinking about how much the film would cost and where could I get it. I found two places in Arkhangelsk that sold the same color film of the worst possible quality and it cost a ridiculous amount of money, and I had no choice buy it for the lack of other options. I would later change the photographs from color to black and white in Photoshop. My friends brought me black and white film from their trips, and I would take a really long time going through each film because I had so little of it. The story published here took me about two and a half years. Some of my favorite photos and many of the pictures for this series are shot with this old camera. I don’t use it much anymore but it’s always around and it means a lot to me. 

 There is an area on the outskirts of Arkhangelsk called Maimaksa, it’s the most neglected and criminal part of town. It’s basically one wide long road with endless rows of wooden houses, destroyed and decaying. There is a house I photographed for this series, which had just burnt down. You can see a fireman sitting in one of the windows if you look closely. You can see that the roof has burnt down completely. I heard about the fire on the news the night before so I went down there the following day and saw that the works were still going on, there were fireman and the police, and medical workers. The firemen told a group of people had been drinking in the house the previous night and they started the fire by accident. There was an old lady sleeping in the house, she was deaf and blind. So when the fire started everyone ran for escape and left her behind.

 I was wondering through the burnt ruins of the house and encountered the most startling scene. You can see three adolescents jumping on a bed in one of the pictures. I found them in the part of the house where the fire had already been put out, they were throwing things around and crashing everything. There were toys left behind in the house so they took them outside and were fighting each other for them. I asked the kids who they where and where did they come from and they said they came from nowhere. It sounded strange to me and I didn’t feel like asking more. They were pretty crazy, those kids, throwing bricks out of the windows and doing stupid things like that. 

There is also a photo of the yard that I grew up in, with dirty old toys lying around everywhere. This is where mothers come to play with their kids to this day. They just take the dirty old toys and toss them around and that’s how they spend their time. 

 My childhood days were spent hanging out with the boys from a local children’s home. It was right next door to my best friend’s place, so we used to play football and run around with the orphans. They were pretty much left to themselves most of the time and didn’t like to be associated with their life at the children’s home, they didn’t want anyone’s pity. I wanted to capture this childhood memory through the children I’ve photographed for this photo diary. 

Before I got into photography I never saw these stories around me, I would just walk by. And it’s when I picked up the camera my eyes opened to new things and it was both exciting and disturbing. Shooting on film taught me to see the value of the moment. I am going back to Arkhangelsk soon and I found myself missing it lately and looking forward to my visit. I can’t wait to shoot new stuff while I’m there, now that my perspective has changed and I see familiar things in a new light.