Jana Romanova:“Waiting”. Photo book review

No title is mentioned at the cover of the book by Jana Romanova. There is only a photo of crumpled sheet reminding of antique drapery, which, probably, hides something sensual and fleshly.

The name could be only found under the cover – hand-written inscription printed with the help of transparent UV Varnish: “Jana Romanova, Waiting”. The letters are barely seen as if someone is whispering in order not to awake.

You are opening the book and it feels like if you were peeking into a stranger’s room without ceiling. The page opened vertically is turning into a white wall. Near the wall there are sleeping characters of the projects – men and their pregnant wives photographed from above. You can’t stop to feel that you are a giant peeking from above into a dolls house. The very gesture of the book opening – without any designer’s bells and whistles – is creating a maquette of the bedroom and entering private domestic scenes, which are normally hidden from a stranger’s gaze.

 

I am looking at the sleeping pregnant women – a lot of them look tired, their faces and hands are swollen. Some of them must combine two roles at the same time – to care after their first children – who are sleeping near-by – and to bear a baby. Nevertheless, some of them are smiling at sleep and I start to remember what I had to go through one year ago. At the late stages of my pregnancy I had insomnia. It was hard to find a right position with the big belly, hands and feet were swollen, the moving baby inside didn’t want to sleep, it was always too warm and a long maternity pillow didn’t help much. Moreover, the thoughts about upcoming birth weren’t the best means against insomnia. Actually, the sleep of pregnant women isn’t that calm and serene. But the night thoughts in anticipation of the new phase of life are frightening and pleasing at the same time.

Jana started shooting her project several years ago – when suddenly  there were fewer and fewer parties and her friends – mostly in their mid 20 – started thinking about families and children. The project became a kind of research for her – what is happening with them, how did they abruptly turn into the serious adults and why  the fun and easy life they used to live was no more relevant and attractive.

Armed with a monopod and a camera with remote control Jana went to take photos – she came at dawn to the flats of her models, waited till they fell asleep and took the photos from above using the ladder. Once she took the photos of friends and of friends of friends, she made a call in a “Russian Facebook” (social network VKontakte) and then visited the flats of strangers. The interiors of the flats varied extremely – from small rooms with wallpaper made from old newspapers and cracked wooden flooring to stylish furnished minimalistic apartments with black bed linen. The generation she depicts is the last one born before the collapse of the Soviet Union and their children will know about this time only from their words and photos.

An interior can narrate a lot about its dwellers – even unwillingly. Sleeping people can not “construct” their desired identity (the opposite to ‘selfie’). When can one be more vulnerable and control less himself than while sleeping? These family portraits were made without makeup or matching ‘family look’ in clothes, without decent staged postures and flattering artificial lighting. And thereby the message of the project “Waiting” is becoming suddenly close to the humanistic concept of the exhibition “The Family of Men” (1955, curated by Edward Steichen, MOMA) – we are all the same, we all wish to love and to be loved, all we need is to live and bring up our children, we don’t want to make war…

Very competitive and socially polarized Russian society is turning here into a very homogenous one: the Russians got rid of social masks and trustfully let a stranger to enter their house and, oddly enough, in the undone look and cozy domestic scenes, without our usual “armour” we all look very similar to each other. And peeking through the absent ceiling into the small world one finds there not just the friends of friends, but him/herself, as if flew out of the body.

 

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