Mikhail Kalarashan · Transnistria

Apr 13, 2021

Mikhail is a Moldovan photographer working on long term documentary projects that deal with territorial and social issues. In his series 'Transnistria', Mikhail approaches the topic of regional identity in his homeland, at the time that he discovers the differences in interests that he has with his fellow citizens. In this series we can appreciate pensive takes that reflect on the thoughts of Mikhail towards a place that makes him feel a contradiction of a homeland that doesn't feel like home.

am - First of all thank you very much for your contribution to our project. Can you please introduce yourself for us?

MK - My name is Mikhail Kalarashan. I was born in 1993 in Rybnitsa (Transnistria, Moldova). In 2012 I entered the Faculty of Psychology in Chisinau and finished my studies in 2015. In 2011, I took a camera in my hands for the first time, meaning that this year it makes 10 years since I started taking photographs. However I only came to documentary photography in 2017, when I took a small grant from a small Moldovan magazine and made my first story. This made a big impression on me, I could tell stories that interest me and other people could see them. Since then I have been working only in the field of documentary photography. In the same 2017 I entered the Academy of Documentary Photography and Photojournalism “Fotografika.” in St. Petersburg, Russia. I mainly work on long term projects and I use as much time as I need, without rushing. However, from time to time I also collaborate with various Moldovan and Romanian publications, filming special projects.

 

am - How did you start in photography?

MK - I just wanted to capture the moment. It sounds corny, but it is like this. I was looking for the form without thinking about the content. It was 2011 when photography became widespread in the post-Soviet space, and after some time, I wanted something new, something that was beyond my 100% control, that's how I got to know film photography. In 2015 I shot my first film, and in 2016 I began to develop my own black and white films. Now I use both film and digital photography equally, depending on the project. Documentary photography is not only about the form, but also about the content. However, it often happens that in order to convey the content correctly, you need to choose the correct, suitable form. That is why in this project about Transnistria, I use color film, to make the photos spontaneous. It was important for me to remove the “feeling”. I wanted to convey this spirit of the road that I lived at that time, and the film was best suited for this. Due to the analogue process and the impossibility of being distracted by the camera, there are fewer boundaries between me and the event I find myself in.

am - What is 'Transnistria' about?

MK - Transnistria is a very curious phenomenon, somewhat unique. This is a country that does not exist legally, but in spite of this, it has endured for more than 30 years. There are several territories like this in the world map, even in Europe, and always in such cases unrecognized territories are made by national entities. For example, Abkhazians live in Abkhazia, Ossetians live in South Ossetia, etc. Russians, Moldovans and Ukrainians live in Transnistria alike, and their separation from Moldova is not based on ethnicity. In the late 80s, the issue of language became acute in Moldova, when Chisinau began to look towards the west, national activists were actively campaigning against the “Russian world”. Many on the Left Bank of the Dniester river were frightened by this, and decided to secede. This is curious, because also Moldovans living on the left bank (present day Transnistria), separated. In 1992 this conflict led to an armed clash. A bloody and senseless war went on for several months, which has divided both banks of the Dniester until now. For me, 'PridneTransnistria' is an example of how, while trying to “save yourself,” you can finally preserve yourself in time. Despite the changing world around, little is changing in Transnistria. Of course, Transnistria is my homeland, but I do not feel it as such. My mother lives there, my father is buried. This is a part of me, but I am very sad when I understand that in the current situation this region has no prospects.

 

am - What were you most interested in capturing with these images?

MK - First of all, I liked communicating with random people who came across with me on the road and in different cities (Tiraspol, Bendery). They are people of different generations and with different destinies. They all speak the same language – Russian –  which I understand, but I did not fully "understand" them, and I still don't do due to a slightly different value system. It's still a mystery to me, because I grew up in the same context, but with different interests. I hitchhiked, encouraged people to talk and tried to understand. I didn't comprehend anything, and this led me to an unexpected conclusion, despite the fact that I have a “homeland”, it doesn't feel like “home” being in Transnistria. When I realized this, I decided to make this project and wrote an essay. In fact, this project was born after this experience. For a long time I kept these photographs “in the drawer” without showing them to anyone.

 

am - Who are your favourite photographers / artists?

MK - There are many of them, it's hard for me to name just one. These are: Jan Brykczyński, Jonas Bendiksen, Ioana Cîrlig and Josef Koudelka. Almost all photographers working on long-term projects about some kind of social phenomenon, or territory arouse my interest.

 

am - What’s your favourite movie?

MK - Here, as with photographers, there are too many of them. But if I have to choose just one, let it be 'Alice in den Städten' by Wim Wenders.

 

am - What is your favourite photo book?

MK - 'Black Passport' by Stanley Green. Goosebumps ran through my body when I first picked up this book.

 

am - Thank you very much for your time and your contribution to analog magazine.

MK - Thank you for giving me the opportunity to show my project!

All images © Mikhail Kalarashan

 

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