(Na Krayu) is Russian for “on the edge.” It is a project that was completed over the course of ten months spent in Krasnoyarsk, Russia, where I was living and working at a university, teaching English. Krasnoyarsk is a city of 1,000,000 people. It is modern and beautiful, lively and welcoming. But when you fly into Krasnoyarsk, all you see below is endless forest. When you drive from the airport to the city, all that stretches on either side is treeless land and occasional smatterings of cabins and puffing smokestacks.
Early in the year, when I was still getting my bearings, there was one memorable evening when I spent some long minutes staring at a gigantic map of Russia, focusing on that impossibly distant spot that happened to be my home at the time, and then back into the direction of the places that I came from. I felt I had an acute understanding of the vastness of the world that I didn’t want to lose, and I was in awe of Siberia’s endless, unoccupied spaces. The words “steppe” and “taiga,” which refer, respectively, to short-grass prairie and Russia’s impenetrable forest, became refrains that I repeated to myself as I went about my life in Krasnoyarsk.
Combining that awe and the occasional feelings of isolation that come from living far away from home, these photographs form a narrative that comes directly from my emotional experiences living in Russia. The work is, in part, an expression of the time I spent alone. The still-life objects and interior locations were chosen for their personal significance at the time of photographing. The repeated destruction of boots, the accumulation of dust, decaying food; these things were physical manifestations of a growing intimacy with my surroundings.
While the interior photographs are musty and mundane, the landscapes are expansive and sublime. The supreme emptiness of the Siberian landscape is a quality that might be impossible to photograph. But to dwell in these landscapes is a unique emotional experience, and this work is my attempt to capture and preserve that experience.
My Window is a Continent
I once read a story about a woman who bent over to pick up a shell off the beach, and a little ship floated onto her head. As she stood up tiny seamen threw water overboard, and anchored their ship into her hair. She had a headache for a week and was so sick that she couldn’t find a head dress for the head dress ball she had planned to go to. She never noticed the ship and had no idea why her head hurt. But, in the end she went to the ball anyway and won a prize because she had a perfect little ship on her head.
When I was younger (and still, really) I wanted only to fall into some rabbit hole that would lead me to a separate place, with queens, maybe, where I could be friends with beavers. My dad used to tell me stories about a world inside a marble, and once I found a little silver marble under the porch steps in my back yard and I kept it for years.
And there was this miniature plastic boot, about the size of my pinky, which would disappear in my house but always reappear several days later, like something very tiny had taken a long walk and lost its shoe along the way.
Your home is a private kingdom. You choose which people or books or styles of lamps to allow into your own space. It is perpetually familiar and mundane, but it contains memories, present anxieties, and plans for the future.
I like to look at a real object and feel aware of the memory and physical experience it contains. In my photographs I’ve intertwined people with their possessions and surroundings. The images take time to make. They are all staged and shot on either medium or large format film.
When I take photographs, I see the way I saw when I could spend an hour lying in the grass, staring at my swing-set, or look at my window pane, divided into six panels, and see the map of a continent with six countries, each with its own mysterious national dish. I try to make a place where it might be possible to bend over and not even notice a tiny ship sailing onto my head. These images exist in the everyday, concrete world, but small things change, and familiar things grow stranger.