Book Review: The Earth’s Circle. Kolodozero by Ekaterina Solovieva
Documentary photographer Ekaterina Solovieva, born in Moscow in 1977, lives in Hamburg, Germany. Her main interest is in religious traditions and customs of rural folk in the former Soviet Union. Her work has appeared on BBC Russia and Russia Today as well as in GEO, Leica Fotografie International, Orthodoxy and the World, and other publications.
The Earth’s Circle. Kolodozero documents aspects of life of the people of the Russian North. At the center of this tome is however the rebel and punk Arkady Shlykov from Moscow, who was first met with scepticism but eventually became the much loved and respected local priest.
Ekaterina Solovieva had first come to Kolodozero in 2009 for she had heard stories about a strange punk priest living in the Karelian wilderness. Upon her arrival, the priest was nowhere to be seen, there was however the local celebrity Yurka, drunk, holding a giant knife and telling endless stories until finally “the door flew open, and a huge shaggy red-haired Viking with sawdust in his beard entered the room, grabbed Yurka, threw him over his shoulders, and carried him into the fog without saying a word. That was my first encounter with father Arkady. And that was when I realized that I was in the right place, and that Kolodozero was to change my life.”
The village of Kolodozero in the Russian North consists of a handful of small hamlets, scattered along lakes and rivers. Arkady Shlykov had come here in 2001, together with two friends. The three of them were touring the north in search for the meaning of life. They decided to build a new church in order to replace the old one that burnt down in 1977.
The photographs depict ordinary scenes, landscapes, children playing, the priest reading in the bible (I suppose), kitchen utensils and so on. The pics come without captions, one needs to use one’s imagination to interpret what the eyes are seeing. There are also accompanying texts that provide varied infos on the activities of the village people.
Kolodozero looks like a place out in the nowhere, a place where one can forget about time. “It happened very recently, I just recalled. We were going home from the store, with our bags. Winter hadn’t begun yet, but the lake was already frozen over with smooth, transparent ice. We saw some boys aged around twelve having fun throwing rocks at the ice, and the stones would slide with a rustling sound for several hundred meters to the other end of the lake. We, bearded men in our forties, watched, and then put down our bags, and started picking up rocks … We slid them for two hours, handing rocks to each other: ‘Give it to me! No, it’s my turn now! Look, mine slid farther!’ And at home there were things to take care of, we had to cook lunch and feed our geese – we forgot about everything …”.
There are quite some heartwarming stories to be found in this tome. The one about the five-year-old girl, for instance, who insisted to be christened. Or the tragedy that befell local celebrity Yurka. Or the fate of 25-year-old Dima who went missing when sailing.
Last but not least, The Earth’s Circle. Kolodozero is also a book about the life and times of father Arkady Shlykov. “People often say to me that I’m so strong, so awesome; and since I settled here in Kolodozero permanently, I have transformed from a Muscovite into a village priest. But I say, no, it’s the opposite! The awesome ones are my friends who came here and left their hearts and souls here, but found in themselves the strength to return to normal life. And I am the weak one, as I am unable to leave.”
PS: The photographs are all in black and white. They were scanned from hand-printed silver-gelatin prints made from black and white 135 mm negatives.
The Earth’s Circle. Kolodozero
By Ekaterina Solovieva
Schilt Publishing, Amsterdam 2018