In the Thomas Wolfe book, aptly titled You Can’t Go Home Again, in which the title comes from the finale of the novel when protagonist George Webber realizes, “You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood … back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame … back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time — back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.”
As explained in Wikipedia (becoming one of my favorite sources for meaningless trivia as you might deduce from previous reviews), “You can’t go home again” has entered American speech to mean that after you have left your country town or provincial backwater city for a sophisticated metropolis, you can’t return to the narrow confines of your previous way of life, and, more generally, attempts to relive youthful memories will always fail.
Andrej Krementschouk was born in Gorky (Nizhny Novgorod), Russia has since moved to Germany and is now residing in Leipzig, but has been returning to his homeland Russia to investigate what remains. What he has found is illustrated in his 2009 book No Direction Home.
The rural countryside of Russia is not similar to the conditions that are found in the rural countryside of Germany, where there is air-conditioned farm tractors in Germany, while in Russia it is the natural air providing any relief to the process of farming. It is the contradiction in Krementschouk’s German reality that clashes with his memories of his Russian home that appears to provide the fuel for his discovery and attempt in understanding the contrasts. He straddles the two geographic and cultural locations, with a foot now firmly entrenched in both regions. He has the sophisticated and trained eye of a German photographer, but the soul and cultural heritage of a Russian artist. It seems that Kremenshouk is almost helpless in his the desire to be drawn back time and time again to his homeland; looking, seeing and investigating.
In the case of Krementschouk, returning home is also realizing that the reality of his youth is far different from what he perceived at the time, that he now experiences events and situations in a much different frame of reference and perhaps realizes the dire economic and social situations more acutely.
A personal journey by a man who is returning to his homeland after an absence and now experiences it with new eyes. The many things that might have been taken for granted are now questioned and examined, open to new investigation. The landscape, the villages, the culture, the society and family are not as familiar, they now seem different, probably much as KrementschoukKrementschouk now appears different to those friends, families, acquaintances and even the strangers of these villages, he acts different, seems different, perhaps even sounds different, and has become a stranger in strange land.
Some of us may not have ventured far from home and may have some difficulty comprehending Krementschouk’s perceptual shift. Personally, my family relocated back and forth across the United States while I was a youth, and at the time, I did not fully realize the cultural and social disorientation that were occurring. Today I understand it a little better now, such that this photobook resonates in a strange way with me, but looking back, as at the time I was taking it all for granted. I erroneously thought, this is just normally what families do. By the way, I think moving from the Western Pennsylvania to the Southwest of Phoenix and Yuma Arizona, and then back to the Midwest of SouthEastern edge of Michigan is a fairly decent cultural shift even within America, encompassing some 2,300 miles (3,700 kilometers). I have not really provided this cultural shifts much voice, but I now realize that it has altered the way I perceive things, many times in a different way than others who have not had similar experiences.
Krementschouk utilizes very saturated color in his documentary style photographs and the resulting images are usually crisp and clear. The excellent printing of this book really works to Krementschouk’s advantage. What I have found to be especially intriguing is the paring of photographs across the spread of this photobook.
In one of the early paring, first below, there is an older woman appearing to be asleep or resting comfortably on a single bed, the background wall is bare and the pillow, bedstead and her clothing appear simple and uncomplicated. On the facing page is a photograph of a sunlight window and a television on which appears to be two younger men in the military. This facing page is in color, while the television screen is in a surreal black and white, representing a dream like state for the older woman, that this is her dreams and fantasies of the young men in her past life.
In the second pared photographs below, on one side is an older woman who stands outside a log cabin building, but concealing her face and more importantly, her eyes. On the facing page is another dream like surreal photograph, this time a layer of grim or other layer of debris, a larger building is faintly seen, with a bright region in the upper quadrant. The two facing photographs create an interesting dialog and speculative narrative surrounding this older woman and this mysterious dream like state.
Then the next pair of photographs below are another strange narrative, the nature and condition of the reclining and potentially sleeping man is in similar disrepair and condition as the ratty and dirty snowman. Krementschouk appears to be asking us, how are these two similar or are they really that different? More questions and less obvious any answers.
In the following pair of photographs, we can observe what appears to be in one photograph, a broken home, literally with the roof caving in. This damaged house borders a primitive dirt road, with two ruts that were probably worn down by a horse-drawn wagon, and the ominous sky lurking overhead. It has a sense of mystery as well foreboding, a dying house perhaps in a dying rural village. The facing photograph is four men who have religious symbols, as though there to watch over and give last rites to this house and maybe the village itself. One man steadfastly holds the lantern, but is slightly bowed and has turned his head and eyes down, perhaps has difficulty with the emotional weight of what he is observing on the facing page. Another younger man stands upright, but is not looking upwards, yet grasping his throat, perhaps feeling a choking feeling. The man holding the orthodox cross barely has his eyes open, more closed than open, as the sight of what he is looking at is too difficult to comprehend. Finally the fourth man is holding a decorated staff, but he too is looking up and away from the scene on the opposing page, perhaps too difficult to look at directly.
I really enjoy the way the facing photographs play off each other, although at times I am not always sure of the narrative, as though I am not privy to a secret language. I am guessing that to be the case, that there is an odd mix of the German and Russian cultures relating to the ancient stories that have been handed down in this surreal smash-up, in the complex set of experiences that Krementschouk is attempting to sort out, both for himself and the viewer.
The text in this hardcover book is provided in English, German and Russian
by Douglas Stockdale