Overhead portraits of sleeping parents-to-be
I know the photographs and the format so well. Young couples, pregnant bellies, sometimes other kids, often pets, a duvet in disarray and always something unique to them and their living space. The concept is very simple and the photographs capture kind and tender documents. It took me almost five years to shoot and now I want to honor it and the people in my photographs with a book.
It’s crazy to think it all started accidentally.
In 2009, I took a picture of my sleeping friends. Their daughter to be born in one month. Amid the cravings and the body changes, the anticipation and the preparation; the joys and the aches, there’s little time for quiet. And yet here I’d found a moment in which parents were in complete rest (or maybe exhaustion?) together.
The visual result was gripping and the idea to secure such intimate access immediately seemed like a challenge. At that time, too, all my friends were getting married and starting families. All the talks were about babies, home-repairs, and how their lives would no longer be their own. I was desperately trying to get used to this “new era” in my life and thought lurking over their beds as they slept would be a good strategy.
There was something charming and magic in their poses, in the symmetry of their bodies. I photographed friends, then friends of friends, and then I reached out to couples on social media.
I sent hundreds of letters asking to photograph people sleeping. 99% of the time “You’re insane!” was the reply. Often people thought I wanted to steal something, or thought my work would show Russian people from a bad perspective. I wanted to make 40 images to reflect the 40 weeks in pregnancy. It took a while, but I found very open people in time. All the photos were made in Saint-Petersburg and Moscow.
How Did I Do It?
Nearly all photos are made very early in the morning. On an agreed day, I’ll show up, be let in to the residence and then the subjects will return to sleep. Usually, I’ll wait in the kitchen and have some tea before entering the bedroom to shoot.
I make the photos from a ladder. Holding a monopod, camera, and remote control device with stretched arms for any length of time is near impossible. One minute at the most. It’s several kilograms. You start sweating like hell, your elbows curve in unexpected places and your legs shake. The thought of dropping the equipment on innocent sleeping people and the pressure of responsibility helps the shaking stop.
Being atop the ladder is the most anxious part — waiting, in a room with sleeping people. Waiting, for a couple to turn. Waiting, for a blanket to move from a belly. And then after the shoot, drinking coffee in the kitchen and waiting for them to wake up, wondering if they heard you, and wondering if they know it is over.
After each early morning shoot, I’d go off to my day job. I worked with a rescue division. I photographed a lot of horrible things — car crashes, injuries, fires, big and small catastrophes. The Waiting series became an important part of my life. It was a parallel to my main documentary work and achieved different things.
I got used to the idea that you can trust your camera with all of your problems. It was a foil to the stress of my other image-making and it was a way to process the changing priorities of my baby-making peer group.
Never an Easy Ride
Stepping in to the unfamiliar territory of others’ bedrooms is never without its dangers.
Danger one: Pets.
Dogs and cats can’t grasp what’s happening and can become very protective. They’ve fought the camera, the photographer, the ladder, or all! I lost several fights with cats and dogs … and even a ferret.
Danger two: The oblivious husband.
Once I agreed with a pregnant lady to photograph at her apartment early in the morning. She opened the door for me, pointed toward the tea and kettle and went back to sleep. After half an hour of waiting, I entered the room, climbed the ladder and started to shoot. Soon after I started photographing, the husband opened one eye. Then the another.
There was real fear in his eyes. Staring at me, he touched his wife’s arm and asked, “Masha, who is this?” Her sleepy voice replied, “It’s a photographer, darling, go back to sleep.” He rolled over and fell back asleep. Later, I found out that he never recalled this situation, being sure it was just a dream.
Danger three: Unwanted pose or movements.
People who sleep change position only once very 20 minutes or so. If you don’t like the posture or you can’t fit all the hands, heads and legs in one shot, you’ve a while to wait until the next composition. Refer to my earlier comment about the weight of my equipment!
Why Did I Do It?
I captured moments when people don’t care about their appearance; and they are natural. Waiting investigates not only their attitude to each other during the period of expecting a baby, but also the way young families live in big cities of modern Russia, 20 years after the fall of the Soviet Union, the country that will be known to their children only from history books.
Look at the things that surround them — slippers, sofas, mobile phones, toys, laptops, “Star Wars” bedsheets. These are the details to the stories of the generation to which I belong and to the children who are already invisibly present in these images. These couples are waiting for a future and the only thing we can predict is that it will be totally different than our “here and now.”
Designer Anton Lepashov and I have made a book dummy. We’re going to publish at least 500 copies. $4,500 will cover the printing and binding costs.
We have a contingency budget to make this happen but every pre-sale of the book (and support through other sponsor levels) will ease the way to making this document of beauty and life a reality.
Most of my work is dedicated to Russia and post-soviet space, I prefer to think of it through connections between people that exist in spite of any political or economical confrontations. It made sense to ask the community to help crowd fund this project about community.
Please consider helping at the Waiting Indiegogo page.