Russian Rooms is a multimedia project created and curated by Maria Rubin, Visiting International Scholar at Dickinson for the 2012-2014, showing portraits of average Russians in their home environment. You can read about each person and listen to an interview with them (in Russian) while viewing their portraits and the picture of the room they call their own. As discussed an earlier post, all the material created in this project becomes a part of the open teaching resources of the Dickinson Russian department, and is available to anyone else who wishes to use it.
My goal this summer was to do 15 new portraits and interviews; in the end, with funding from the Mellon Digital Humanities grant at Dickinson, I managed to interview and photograph 20 subjects and the rooms they live in.
Five of the subjects were of non-Russian ethnicity, specifically two Tatars, one Tajik, one Azerbaijan and one British. Four of them are Muslim. I sought out these subjects to give a more accurate account of Russian diversity today. Other subject varied widely in age and occupation, which also added diversity to the range of portraits.
The project involved travelling throughout Moscow, as well as through the extensive Moscow countryside, arranging interviews, taking photographs, and often returning to improve the portraits or to take another picture of the room where the subject lives. All in all, one portrait could take up to five hours work.
I now have about 40 photographs (two for each). They will require further editing, and I also need to do further work on writing a bilingual Russian-English text for each subject putting the information from the interviews together to compile brief biographies. I hope to have finished doing this and putting the results onto the Russian Rooms blog by the end of October.
The major (unforeseen) result of this summer’s work was a conceptual reorientation of the project: I moved from thinking about Russian individuals and their personal space to thinking more deeply about what Russianness means. This was triggered by the fact that I was travelling and photographing between Russia and America: I discovered that a “Russian room” can be a room in Russia where a non-Russian (Tajik, Tatar) can live; but one can also have “Russian rooms” outside of Russia – that is, places where émigré Russians have made their homes. Some questions arise: What unites them? How do they differ?
In future I would like to expand the number of photos, and move outside the Moscow region in my search for subjects (perhaps to a region of Russia where different ethnicities live, such as Tatarstan). I would also like to continue taking pictures of Russians and their rooms in America.