Kati Turkina, who goes by the alias Turkina Faso, inherited her grandfather’s interest in photography. As her interest turned into an obsession, she did everything she could to learn more, which led her to study in London. Her latest series retraces her steps to her hometown and her childhood memories.
At the base of the Caucasus Mountains in Russia, there is a small city called Essentuki. Home to an abundance of mineral springs that are renowned for their healing capabilities. In the early 19thcentury, the town became a popular wellness resort for those looking to improve their health and reconnect with nature. However, over the years its popularity has decreased and now it stands frozen in time – a wistful relic that seems to exist in a separate reality to the world around it. It was there that Kati Turkina – a.k.a Turkina Faso – was given her first camera. Her grandfather had an obsession with photographic equipment and was always trying to keep his tools in use, so he gave Turkina a single-pixel camera to tinker with. However, it was only after she left home at 17 years of age to study at a medical academy that Turkina began to see photography as something more than a hobby.
“I was taking a lot of pictures during my studies at the academy. I wasn’t really interested in anatomy or other [medical] things because I was forced to go there. I was underage and… I didn’t have a voice,” Turkina explains. As soon as she turned 18, she quit her studies. At the time there were no universities in Russia offering an undergraduate degree in photography so she settled for the next best thing – Moscow’s Institute of Journalism and Literature. “I was already with my camera for a few years and I realised I really liked it … so I went to the journalistic course and started to do photography workshops. But I was more doing my own thing on the side and experimenting as well.”
It was around this time that Turkina first started to photograph her sister Alice. Initially, it was simply because “she was around”. In 2013, it became a serious creative partnership that also served as a way to keep the sisters close despite their 14 year age gap – a binding that stayed strong even when Turkina went to London to attend the London College of Fashion’s MA Fashion Photography course. “Maybe we would be kinder to and more separated from strangers if there was no photography between us,” says Turkina. “It became our tool to communicate as well.”
“I was still trying to put everything together. I had the skill, obviously, and the technical understanding. But I didn’t know what I wanted to say with them.”
But the move wasn’t completely seamless. “I went to London and I started to live a completely different life, an independent life as well, because I was separated from my boyfriend, from my family and I had never been there before. So for me, it was a big stress. But it was a part of my self-identification,” Turkina says. Up until that point she had been collaborating with different people in Moscow and taking on small jobs, but hadn’t yet figured out what it was she really wanted to do with the medium. “It was a big struggle for me to study an MA because I was still trying to put everything together. I had the skill, obviously, and the technical understanding. But I didn’t know what I wanted to say with them.”
“The flashes of joy, longing, freedom and teenage bravado transcend Turkina’s biography – they could be any of us at any moment in time.”
A change came when Turkina decided to return to Essentuki a decade after she first grasped the reigns of her life and headed to Moscow. As a teen, Turkina never could have foreseen that she would make such a decision, let alone be living in London and studying to be a fashion photographer. It was that feeling of being on the cusp of something that she wanted to capture for her MA dissertation. It only seemed natural that Turkina would use Alice as her muse for the project.
Entitled ‘Me and Them, Back Home with Alice’, the series revisits Turkina’s formative years by placing Alice in loose reconstructions of Turkina’s past. Wrangling horses at a neighbours’ farm, chasing after a bright red cloth in a lush field, sitting at the kitchen table while her grandmother washes the dishes – some scenes are more literal than others but they all elicit tactile emotions. The flashes of joy, longing, freedom and teenage bravado transcend Turkina’s biography – they could be any of us at any moment in time.
“It’s an abstract thing about memories and nostalgia. It’s about the feeling of the time and about the perception of being grown up and independent now. But ten years ago, you were in a completely different situation … with a thought that everything is going to happen somehow and you’re kind of excited but not sure,” Turkina says. “So actually I went there to capture those feelings of when you look forward to something when you’re in this area, which is completely separated from real life, and you’re just kind of wondering what there is in the big city or whatever.”
“I think, first of all, it’s the exploration of photography as a time machine. It’s interesting how you can go somewhere and you can travel in time by taking pictures and remembering. And then you can actually build a new reality based on the past, but also the present … so you can be in different times at the same time.”
When asked what she considers the essence of the project, Turkina pauses. “I think, first of all, it’s the exploration of photography as a time machine– I always say that but I think it’s kind of a good description. It’s interesting how you can go somewhere and you can travel in time by taking pictures and remembering. And then you can actually build a new reality based on the past, but also the present … so you can be in different times at the same time.” That sense of unreality is a vivid theme throughout the work. One image of Alice has her standing in a swimming pool while she’s holding a martini glass and wearing leopard print bathers. It’s glamorous, but totally not. And though the story behind the photo is deeply personal, the stylistic obfuscation of facts and fiction is purposeful and effective.
“I took this image because I had a particular memory from my childhood when I was 10 or 11. We went to the swimming pool and my grandmother, she was spoiling me in a really bad way. She loved me to eat ice cream while I was swimming and she was treating me like I was a princess. It was a great time for me because no one treated me like that after that. It was the kind of moment when you feel you’re very special and it’s so much fun… I wanted to capture again this kind of a moment when you’re eating ice cream in the swimming pool, but now it doesn’t look like children fun. It looks like luxury.”
Today, over 10 years since she first began photographing her sister, Turkina is in the process of publishing ‘Me and Them, Back Home with Alice’ as a photobook, and is also exhibiting the series at the 2019 Portraits(s) Festival in Vichy. She’s had to select 48 images for the show in order to represent the large-scale quantity of the work. Poring over a self-proclaimed “horrible mess” of an archive that once consisted of scattered hard drives and boxes of film in former residencies across Moscow. Fortunately, everything is now in “good order” and she has plenty to choose from. For Tukina and Alice, it’s the perfect ending to such a significant chapter of their lives. The sisters each have fresh projects on the horizon, both together and with new collaborators.
“Now I want to start a whole lot of new projects. I also want to start to print pictures by myself… and extend my practice to something more handcrafted,” Turkina says. “I want to explore the world and go back to school to try different things – just new techniques. So I’m kind of like an old, newborn photographer at the moment. It’s funny.”