High Fire in the Forest’s Heart

High Fire in the Forest’s Heart

Traditional Post-Conflict Grant

Alisa Martynova, 2022 Finalist

A photographic study of the descendants of the Russian émigrés – members of aristocratic families, intellectuals, students and artists – who opposed the Bolsheviks and who fled the country in the wake of the 1917 revolution and the 1917-1922 Russian Civil War.

Two sisters, Sophia (right) and Marina, descendants of the Russian Olsufiev family, stand in the garden of their family house in Tuscany, Italy. In the beginning of the 19th century the Olsufievs lived in the rural house in the countryside near Moscow far from the emperor’s court that was then located in Saint Petersburg. In the 1910s their great-grandmother fled Moscow. She was known for her literary translations of Russian poets and writers, including the first translation of Solzhenitsyn's “The Gulag Archipelago: An Experiment in Literary Investigation.” Her family settled near Florence in Italy after she fled Russia. December 26, 2019.

The united hands of three sisters wearing the same ring they inherited from their great-grandmother, a descendent of the Russian Olsufiev family. The ring is one of the only jewels left in their family. Most of the family’s belongings were lost in Russia or sold during financially difficult times in Europe. December 26, 2019.

Two horses standing on a road in Tuscany, Italy. After the October Revolution in 1917, most of the noble families and artists fled to Kislovodsk, a city in the south of Russia. The city was constantly attacked by the Red Army. The Olsufiev family, an aristocratic Russian family, decided to move to Kislovodsk so that the mother and daughters would be closer to the father, a White Army colonel, who was fighting in the Caucasus. Maria Olsufieva, one of the daughters, recorded her memories of this time and recounts that one day– the exact date remains unknown–the Red Army came too close to the city and started cannon shooting. Her family decided to flee immediately. While the children were left packing, her mother ran to the town and found the two horses – Vas'ka and Mishka. With the help of these two, the family fled the bombarded town and had the chance to live. October 9, 2020.

Books burning. Most of the aristocracy’s houses were destroyed, along with all the furniture, books, paintings and icons, during the first part of the 20th century. A small portion of the families' belongings were preserved in museums. January 19, 2020.

Vitalij sits with his dog in front of a fireplace in his house in Tuscany, Italy. His parents left Russia at the beginning of the 20th century because of his mother's work during the period of the New Economic Policy -- the economic policy of the government of the Soviet Union from 1921 to 1928. January 25, 2020.

A photo from Countess Fersen's archive. Her family fled Russia after the revolution, and all

her life she worked as an elementary school teacher in a small mountain town in Italy. She told me that one day, while still in Russia, she woke up and saw one of the family's horses with its back arched. It didn't seem to cause the animal any pain, she said, so they kept it like that. November 17, 2019.

A photograph seen under the ice, belonging to the personal archive of the Ryabushinskys, a family of wealthy Russian industrialists. March 20, 2020.

A forest close to Aleksej Bobrinskij’s former house, in Siusi allo Sciliar, Dolomites, Italy. He left Russia after the October Revolution and bought a small villa on the edge of the Laranzer wood. Facing financial problems he opened his house as a private hotel. It was the place where the Russian aristocracy and artists living abroad used to come on vacation. Among them were: the counts Cheremetieff, Fersen, Wolkonskij, Jasupov Galizin and Schikov. January 11, 2020.

Photograph from the family archive of the Olsufiev family. November 20, 2019.

Three sisters who are descendants of the Olsufiev family in Rome. Their grandmother Assia was

one of four sisters who escaped from Russia after the revolution. Family legend says that before the revolution, the three oldest sisters used to sleep together in the bed of the eldest one in their house in Moscow, listening to family tales told every evening by their njanja (“babysitter” in Russian). Their former home became the House of Poets in the Soviet Union. September 16, 2020.

Maria Olsufieva, one of the people who fled Russia, said in her records that during the escape they took strange and -- on the first glance, not useful -- things with them: diaries, children's drawings, books. She was only twelve when the family left on a long trip towards

Europe. "I remember the passage of the Corinth Canal and I remember the distinct feeling I had passing through the channel, the feeling that Russia was behind and we were leaving forever,” she wrote.

An archival image of Nicholas II, the last Emperor of Russia. By March 1917, public support for Nicholas had collapsed and he abdicated the throne, thereby ending the Romanov dynasty's rule of Russia. November 13, 2019.

Interiors of the former home of Aleksej Bobrinskij, the last Tsar's Ambassador in Vienna, great grandson of Catherine the Great and Count Orlov. He left Russia after October Revolution and bought a small villa on the edge of the Laranzer wood. Facing financial problems he opened his house as a private hotel. It was the place where the Russian aristocracy and artists living abroad used to come on vacation. Among them were: the counts Cheremetieff, Fersen, Wolkonskij, Jasupov Galizin and Schikov. Siusi allo Sciliar, Italian Dolomites. November 11, 2020.

Marina, a descendant of the Zabello family, close to her family house in Bezzecca, Italy. Her father, Nicolai Zabello, was born in Kiev; his grandmother came from the Polish Mnishek family. During the Civil War his mother was arrested and sentenced to death because of her noble origin. A classmate, Alexandra Kollontai, who was close to the Bolsheviks ,saved her right before the execution. and the family fled the country towards Italy. Nicolai worked at Siemens company in Milan for his entire career, constructing new phone lines. March 5, 2022.

Photograph of an eagle. The two-headed eagle was featured on the Russian coat of arms which was abolished after the Russian Revolution in 1917. February 17, 2022.

Interior of the Russian Orthodox Church in Florence, Italy. Built in 1904, it became the center of the Russian émigré community in Florence. March 2, 2022.

A wedding photograph from the Ryabushinskys’ archive. Beyond Soviet borders, the family members tried to preserve their culture. In a wedding ceremony in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, after prayers are offered on behalf of the bride and groom, they are crowned by the priest. November 17, 2019.

Exterior view of the former home of Aleksej Bobrinskij, the last tsar's ambassador in Vienna,

great grandson of Catherine the Great and Count Orlov. He left Russia after October Revolution and bought a small villa on the edge of the Laranzer wood. Facing financial problems he

opened his house as a private hotel. It was the place where the Russian aristocracy and artists living abroad used to come on vacation. Among them were: the counts Cheremetieff, Fersen, Wolkonskij, Jasupov Galizin and Schikov. Siusi allo Sciliar, Italian Dolomites. January 12, 2020.

Photograph from the Olsufiev family archives of the father of the family, an army colonel at the time of the Revolution in 1917. When the family fled to Italy he never recovered from the trauma. His daughter, Maria Olsufieva, said in her records: "The clear proof of this has come to me in a book of poems by a Russian poet named Apuchtin. On one page there is a poem

that goes like this: "Black flies fly around my poor head and give me no rest.” And then in the in the second verse: "Black thoughts like flies they buzz around my head and give me no rest.”

Here this certainly was the state of the father's soul and precisely by virtue of our education, we instead completely were detached from him, detached from our mother. He died young, aged 52, and I never got a chance to really know him." November 20, 2019.

A detail of the icon situated on one of the iconostasis parts in the Russian Orthodox Church in Florence, Italy. March 2, 2020.

Catherine. Her mother was one of the five Olsufiev sisters who left Russia for Italy in the 1910s. She says she doesn't have anything left from her family. November 27, 2019.

Interiors of the former home of Aleksej Bobrinskij, the last Tsar's Ambassador in Vienna, great grandson of Catherine the Great and Count Orlov. He left Russia after October Revolution and bought a small villa on the edge of the Laranzer wood. Facing financial problems he opened his house as a private hotel. It was the place where the Russian aristocracy and artists living abroad used to come on vacation. Among them were: the counts Cheremetieff, Fersen, Wolkonskij, Jasupov Galizin and Schikov. Siusi allo Sciliar, Italian Dolomites. January 12, 2020.

A forest close to Aleksej Bobrinskij’s former house, in Siusi allo Sciliar, Dolomites, Italy.He left Russia after the October Revolution and bought a small villa on the edge of the Laranzer wood. Facing financial problems he opened his house as a private hotel. It was the place where the Russian aristocracy and artists living abroad used to come on vacation. Among them were: the counts Cheremetieff, Fersen, Wolkonskij, Jasupov Galizin and Schikov. January 11, 2020.

Photographer's Statement: 

Without authentic memories of our own, we literally cannot know who we are, where we

came from, to whom we are connected. We are nothing, or more accurately, we are only what

people tell us we are. In a very real sense, we exist only as products of the imagination of others,

an imagination benevolent or malicious as the case may be, but an imagination which we cannot

control or even understand.”

--from "The Destruction of Cultural Memory" by Humphrey, R. Stephen

 

I was born in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Through my work, I attempt to

delve deeper into the events and realities that took place at the beginning of it. Following my

research on migration, in this project I am turning to a distant yet quite present-day

phenomenon looking for the descendants of the “white émigrés” – not only members of

Russian aristocratic families as commonly presented, but intellectuals of various professions,

artists and military members, who, as a consequence of the 1917 October Revolution and the

Russian Civil war (1917-1923), had to flee the country.

 

I have been developing the project in Italy, working with archival materials, places and memories, trying to reconstruct memories and find metaphors for their representation. I am also working with poetry written during that period - symbolism, interlaced with mysticism provides a mirror to the feelings reigning in the country at the time of change.

 

In expanding the project, to follow families that settled in other European and non-European countries,

I will continue making portraits of the descendants, working with family and possibly

city archives and will look for the objects and architecture left after the emigration wave.

My intention is also be to focus on the fact that not all the émigrés of that time were of noble origin. They included artists, students, poets and even peasants, who had to flee the country because of their ideas more than their origins.

 

The story of migration is as old as time and as contemporary as the present moment.

Seeing through past events helps us to bridge the space that separates us from them,

understand how complex and multifaceted the history is and how choices directly reflect on the

lives of people and the world.

alisa.martynova's picture
Alisa
Martynova

Alisa Martynova was born in 1994 in Orenburg, Russia. After finishing her studies in Foreign Philology in her home country, in 2019 she graduated from a professional three-year photography program at Fondazione Studio Marangoni in Florence, Italy. During her studies she was an assistant for a photography collective Riverboom. In 2019 she won the photography category of Premio Combat Prize and was the second place winner of Canon Young Photographers Award. She was also shortlisted as a finalist for the 2019 Photolux Award and the PH Museum Women Photographers Grant. In 2021 she was a winner of Portraits Series category of World Press Photo Contest and her work was exhibited at festivals, including PhotoBrussels 05, Fotografia Europea, Cortona on the move, Encontros da Imagem and Planches Contact (Tremplins Jeunes Talents artist-in-residency program). Her work has been published by Internazionale, D-Repubblica, LFI and Fisheye. In 2022 her work was exhibited at the Italian Cultural Institute in Addis Ababa and the La Gacilly photography festival. Nowadays she lives and works in Italy and worldwide.

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