Grassed land completely browned over and watered lawns only just hanging on after the driest month in over 130 years, here. I’d spent much of the past week indoors, trying to do some literal (and rather disastrous it seemed) eleventh-hour exam preparation, and when outdoors was mostly blinded by the transcendent heat of the sun, so a first look out, on a day which was probably decent enough to be an eye-opener, was a surprise- any place that had substantial grass in it now looked completely different.
Not just colour-wise; the trees plus the dirt palette of the ground looked like a scene from the mid latitudes, with only the temperature and me incongruous (a short walk from shelter to snap some pictures, and my device was quickly at 33 degrees C, it said). Roadsides, with buildings under construction and displaying sharply painted facades and rising above brown slopes, looked like those post-Soviet central Asian hotel blocks I’d saved to Pinterest several months ago, thinking they looked like some dreamily otherworldly cityscape so beyond my world.
When Evgenia Arbugaeva recounts her childhood in Tiksi, a port town in the Russian Arctic that touches the Laptev Sea, she speaks in fantastical terms—of an aurora borealis that hovered like “a big green breath frozen in the heavens”; of ice fishing with her father, the two of them dragging home a nelma that could barely fit inside the bathtub; of walks home from school during polar night, the Arctic’s season-long twilight, while celestial lights cast “bits of blue, yellow, and pink” across the tundra.
“As usually happens with memories,” she says, “they started to transform into very surreal images that I started to question—you know, whether it was even possible these kinds of things existed in the world. Is this town really like this, or was I just making it all up?”
Arbugaeva first returned to Tiksi in 2010. She was shocked, she says, by how decrepit the town had become. “The place was a nightmare. My heart was broken. I was walking alone on the streets crying.” With no choice but to make the best of it, she set about photographing through the wreckage, framing her childhood “through this layer of decay.”
So much gritty - yet still beautiful, frail - nostalgia made meta here.
Discovered these folk while browsing last week. (tip o’ the hat to the Oakland Octopus Salon, on the other side of the world and seemingly an exceedingly cool place; very much stratopherically beyond my present reach, but such are the wonders of the internet, and speaking of which) I’m listening to their only album up on Spotify, and it makes for wonderful late night listening as I drag myself onto the run-up to exams. Lots of Roaring Twenties!