If you have a secret by Irina Popova

Irina Popova is a Russian photographer living in the Netherlands. She is maybe best known for her book “Another family” (2013). Irina uses her own label “Dostoevsky Publishing” to distribute and promote her work. In 2014 she published “If you have a secret”  “a haunting and deeply personal collection of photographs and poems from her life in Russia before her departure to Holland in 2009″. Last August – after a crowdfunding campaign -, her label re-published this work but as “edition 2, changed and improved“.

© Irina Popova

Like in the first edition, the reader is invited to play a game with the images and texts. For example, it is only by making use of a litte mirror that you are able to decipher in the beginning of your reading the following clue as how to understand the book: “I want to preserve my memories, to squeeze the very essence of them, to bottle them and and to put the jars on the shelf.

© Irina Popova

These words explain us what we have to keep in mind when we continue. It is assumed that we will be led into the author’s private, inner world because, naturally, it is there where memories belong. We imagine that a number of images represent flashbacks from the author’s childhood (maybe the warm house in the cold winter night represents the parental home). We imagine that the short poetic and intimate texts originally have been entries of well preserved diaries (“i was in love with a biker, the roar of the motor was for him the sweetest music, I bought black leather trousers….”). By the way, many of these texts are quiet odd. They reveal personal adventures of the kind that most people prefer to forget; they even reveal painful family stories and they also reveal the juicy experiences that are the privilege of young people crossing the threshold of adulthood. So, on a first reading, we take the book as a kind of Bildungsroman that describes how Irina became the person she was at the time she left her home country.

© Irina Popova

But, right from the start it also becomes clear that there is more. There are photographs that seem to represent not only Irina’s memories but the memories of Mother Russia itself. The kind of memories that only Rusians share and that make up that special feeling of being Russian, especially to those Russians who are living abroad. Some of these national memories bring a lot of joy (remembering ritual baptism diving in January), others are painful (there is a moving picture of a young terror attack survivor floating in a pool). Other images refer to the country’s  mysteries (empty hills festival) or its infamous underworld (the train beggars). Some images are reminiscent of its many trauma’s (the atomic factory closed city), anxieties (the arrested demonstrators), spirituality (valaam island monastery) and its ever standing certainties (the red square power bastion). Other images bring about feelings that ….. I guess only Russians know.

© Irina Popova

In her artist’s soul Irina has treated all these intimate memories, the flashbacks and also the national memories exactly like delicious apples in a jar. The fruits may not be nourished any more by the Russian soil, but they have developed exceptional tastes due to the cook’s recipe. Nominally rather banal memories (a winter landscape, the typical birches, yellow shoes in the mud, a glimpse of a party girl, a Saint-Georges icon, a teapot, a pan with fried meat) become hauntingly, unforgettable images indeed.

© Irina Popova

So, what is the recipe? There is the directness of Irina’s photographic style that brings about something irresistible in her story. But there is also the marvellous rendering of the colours in the printing. They make us feel to the bones both the body heath during a party night inside and the freezing cold outside. I very much like to touch the thick paper that adds to the sensuality of the whole experience. And, of course, there is also the cinematographic sequencing that builds up the mystery of someone’s private world. Unreadable inner pages cleverly add to the mystery! And we ask ourselves: “Isn’t it about the secrecy of one’s inner world itself that the book really is about, rather than about sharing experiences from the past?”

© Irina Popova

We all have our own, secretive inner world of experiences, desires and memories. Instinctively, we are keen to keep this world full of images for ourselves. Then, this private world only seems to remain genuine as long as it is kept secretive. In sustaining a secret inner world, we realize a kind of individual freedom to enjoy; we find a possibility to remain true, at least to ourselves. Sometimes, keeping the private life secret has to do as well with keeping some power over one’s life. And allowing someone else (even a very dear and close one) to keep his or her private world secret may have a lot to do with generosity. And, isn’t it the case that when we bring our private world into the open, that we forcibly decontextualize even falsify it? It is what makes me feel uncomfortable when Facebook asks me to share my memories! Alas, isn’t it a shame that our smart phone constantly forces us to live our life publicly?

© Irina Popova

Now, the really great thing about this book is that we see a lot of seemingly private experiences but that Irina only convinces us of the deep values of our own secrets. For me, the book does unveil nothing at all about her life in Russia, about her becoming an adult or about whatever tragic family event. On the contrary (and paradoxically), we learn through this magnificent ride through Irina’s Russia that “If you have a secret“, we have to “go far away and hide it under the ground“. And, that is what the book is about!

Thank you very much Mrs. Popova!

Share this...
Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedIn