“The idea of The City of Shadows emerged quite unexpectedly and quite naturally during the collapse [of the Soviet Union] in the fall of 1991. I mean that the concept itself stemmed from my impressions nourished by the everyday reality. At that period, I continued to work on my series Nomenklatura of Signs. Suddenly, at some point I realized that I was struggling with emptiness and that my creative impulses – initially absolutely sincere – were running the risk of contemplating upon ideas no longer valid. This happened because the Soviet people, all these human beings deprived of their individuality and turned into “signs” by a criminal regime, began transforming from smiling and happy-looking “signs” into wandering shadows, even though rejecting the role of a “sign” could result in the loss of life. The year of 1992 was approaching…
The northern city of St. Petersburg is known for its summer “white nights” and its short, dark winter days lasting for just a few hours. In the winter of 1991-1992, one cold and gloomy day, I strolled sadly down a street which used to be packed with people, which used to be full of joyful vibrancy and dynamism. It was poorly lit; evening was settling in. There was not a single car visible. The depressing and strange quietness was interrupted by the sounds of banging grocery store and bakery doors, stores in which the shelves were absolutely empty. I saw people on the verge of insanity, in confusion: unattractively dressed men and women with eyes full of sorrow and desperation, tottering on their routine dreary routes with their last ounce of strength, in search of some food which could prolong their lives and the lives of their families. They looked like shadows, undernourished and worn out. Nothing like that had occurred since World War II, when the Nazis blockaded the city. My impressions as well as my emotional state were enormously powerful and long lasting. I felt an intense desire to articulate these sufferings and grieving, to visualize them through my photographs, to awaken empathy and love for my native city’s inhabitants, people who have been constantly victimized and ruined during the course of the 20th Century.
More than anything, I wanted to convey my “people-shadows” metaphor as accurately as possible. This metaphor became the core of both my new vision and new series. I placed my Hasselblad camera near the entrance to the Vasilievostrovskaia subway station, where the shopping district was located. The events occurring there were imposed on my already mentioned impressions, as were sensations stirred by Shostakovich’s music, and his 13th Symphony in particular, with its movement called “At the Store.” A crowd of people flowing near the subway station formed a sort of human sea, providing me with a feeling of non-reality, a phantasmagoria; these people were like shadows from the underworld, a world visited by Aenius, Virgil’s character. It was a place where time had come to a standstill. This perception of time stopped convinced me that it could also be stopped by means of a camera shutter. I already knew how to achieve this effect, as in my childhood I often took pictures by trying the long exposure process in the dusk and evening, and later, when attending the university at the end of the 1970’s and beginning of the 1980’s, I studied this technique of 19th Century French photography.
I began taking pictures every day. When several good pictures were accumulated, I started grouping them with the intention of following a certain narrative line. This process helps me to make decisions regarding further subjects to be captured. There is the story behind The City of Shadows. As a rule, Shostakovich’s 2nd Cello Concerto and his 13th Symphony accompany the exhibit of this series.”