‘A Google Wife’ by Olga Bushkova. A Photobook Review

When I met Olga Bushkova at the German Fotobookfestival in Kassel in 2015 she presented her first photobook dummy titled A Google Wife for portfolio review. She narrated me how she lived with her husband, an employee at Google LLC, in Zurich where they had moved from Rostov-on-Don several years before (more about it in my interview with Olga for Urbanautica). Olga’s situation appeared to be more relatable to me than to anyone else – after the expatriation we both found ourselves in a very similar condition (in 2011 I moved to Germany following my husband who got a job at a university).

Young professionals who went abroad after their husbands, but living where their spouse found a good job and not where they wanted to. It is a very particular way of life. On the outside such a lifestyle may appear successful and attractive – comfortable household, weekend trips around Europe, the option of ‘sitting at home and doing nothing’ – so it seems from the outside. However, this is only a kind of promo picture that has little to do with reality. For that matter, in the video accompanying the autobiographical project A Google Wife Olga is talking in a vigorous advertising voice about the benefits of socialising in the community of spooglers and their active and exciting life (“spoogler” is a combination of the words ‘spouse’ and ‘googler’ standing for ‘a wife/husband of a Google employee’). However, in the book – as in the reality – everything is not so simple.

In fact the situation is quite the opposite. A woman with a higher education having a career back in her country of origin here becomes a housewife. Most typically, she has to give up all her previous achievements and either receive a new education, starting from scratch, or completely devote her life to housekeeping and raising children.

Previously, in the USSR, it were the wives of the military who moved with their husbands (but this happened more often within the same country), there were no big difficulties with finding a new job, and there was no need for the woman to build a career. Nowadays in the global world things are different –  well qualified specialists move to work in other countries and their wives often do not work (oftentimes they cannot receive a work permit for several years, and if they get a job eventually – it is usually low-paid and unskilled).

The photobook by Olga Bushkova tells about an attempt to reassemble one’s life in a new place piece by piece, and a desperate striving to find substitutes for friends and family left behind back home. All one gets in the end is just loneliness and lack of confidence as we can see on one of the photographer’s self-portraits in the book – she sits, deranged, by the table after a party (three almost identical frames stand in a sequence in her visual narrative creating an effect of a moving picture and referencing the video).

The book A Google Wife in its style and presentation resembles a series or even a reality show, where characters must stay in a confined space. Noone looks directly into the camera, the frames are shot automatically (during the meetings and parties Olga put the camera on a tripod and pressed the remote control with a two second delay so as not to control the result), the quality and composition are not particularly important, it is only the authenticity and truthfulness, the effect of presence that matter. The reader feels like a voyeur, ‘peeping’ at someone else’s everyday life. While flipping through the pages it is felt that you can almost hear the conversation in the background that people who are compelled to spend a long time together occupy themselves with. They might appear like close friends (they are most likely not).

The protagonists stay the same – Olga and her husband, the set doesn’t alter either – just like a theatrical scene (that is the flat they rent). Only the faces of the unknown people alternate – the singles, couples, couples with children, who appear from nowhere and vanish again, – all this resembles an endless interview with ‘candidates’ for the positions of new friends and family.

The interior is a standard IKEA room that tells nothing about its owners. You can perceive the lack of unity between the heroes, only in a few pictures they look into each other’s eyes. Often their glances are directed downwards: they study the table, the floor, their own plate (maybe, they just want to escape the necessity to look for a new conversation topic that has suddenly worked itself out?). They just sit deep in their thoughts, melancholic, turned in upon themselves.

People eat, drink, play cards and a board game with a name that speaks for itself: Ticket to Ride. Europe (about travelling across Europe by railways). And the style of interaction here clearly resembles the companionship of random travellers who find themselves in the same train compartment.

Apathy and monotony are artistic tools for Olga to tell her story – and she is not just talking about it, she is making the viewer feel it.

The members of the jury who awarded Olga the first prize last year in the Fiebre Dummy Award (Spain) noted: ‘It’s a risky job from the editorial point of view, it’s brilliant how it addresses issues such as the role of large companies in the good work-life balance of their employees, the feminist review of the role of women in the professional context and the treatment of the laws on labor permits for foreigners.’

The sincere and, I absolutely agree, feminist, Olga’s photobook challenges the existence of woman in the contemporary global world. It echoes the book of another winner – this time the Moscow Photobookfest 2017, the Japanese photographer Ikuru Kuwajima, – I, Oblomov. His visual story is also about the involuntary inactivity and inability of a smart and educated subject to find a worthy employment. However, if his ‘Oblomov’ spends time alone, lying on the old couches and looking at the ceiling, the ‘Google Wife’ is carried away by the imitation of activity, immersed in ‘worldly vanity’, ‘amidst a noisy ball’, but at the same time, in the end, she turns out to be no less lonely.

ISBN 978-84-697-6911-9

Dalpine/Fiebre Photobook, 2017

Design: Olga Bushkova + Astrolab Estudio

Prepress: La Troupe Printed by Artes Gráficas Palermo

207 pages

Hardcover 22,9 x 16,2 cm

You can order the photo book here

Text by Natalya Reznik. 

Leave a Reply