Cossack Valerka. Standing in all growth in a saddle

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The Don Steppe

Misha Maslennikov | Rostov-on-Don region, Russian Federation

Organization: Noga Creative Union

Picture yourself in the midst of the steppe, somewhere out in the open, looking at the horizon. You find your gaze drawn beyond this meeting of earth and sky, to the far side of the visible, so much that you can see nothing other than this inexorable boundary. What’s out there? What kind of life beyond imagining? Perhaps something utterly different, utterly unknown: seas and mountains, the crystalline glint of office windows in concrete canyons, elegant shop windows, the fireplaces of ski lodges? Perhaps climbing the corporate ladder with its strict dress code, or beach volleyball in stylish bikinis? But you stand there for a while in silence, just a bit longer, and all this falls away. There is only the earth under your feet, near and far, as far as the eye can see, and the sky above your head, around you and about you, and it all runs together as one, even within you, and it’s as if there is no longer an observer.

And you want to understand, you long to glimpse the sense of it, to unravel the riddle of nature, in yourself and in the creation around you, to suddenly grasp why you ended up here. There was something else…

Ah yes, it’s time to head home. You whistle to the dog, who’s tagged along for the walk, you gather the cut reeds from the ravine at the bend in the river for wattling and to repair the roof, you bring in water and firewood, and you water the garden. Then you fix the sagging fence of the livestock pen, you feed the chickens and the pigs, you meet the herd of cows coming in from pasture and urge them into the cowshed. What else? There’s never any lack of chores on the farm. Milk the cows, clean the fish, prepare the leavening for the bread. You don’t neglect the cats, but they would have been sure to remind you of themselves in any case.

Is there another way to live?

Is there another way to live? Well, running the farm there, gardening, the chickens, the cows, the little horse. Gotta feed them. The family too. Everything seems pretty clear. He came to visit early in the morning. Dressed in Cossack uniform, a neat tunic, white gloves. Not for a parade (not in the steppe!), just to look smart. We say hello, he take great-grandpa's ancient service insignia from his breast pocket, boast about his pedigree. Ah, memory. We have a smoke together.
Morning was a bit foggy that day. A herd of cows streams by, their mouths billowing steam; at least they're breathing. There are no flies, but one cow or other occasionally winces so that I shiver involuntarily too. "What brought you here? – Nothing, just looking around." I take his picture with a cigarette. On the second try he mounts his horse; the animal bucks and gallops away. I go the opposite way. Where can you go here in the steppe? The bushes, the ravines, river are all the same all around... It's not my first day here. But what day is it? I don't know, I've lost my way, lost my sense of time. I walk around the gardens, wander to the border of the farm. The edge of the cossack village, the steppe out to the horizon. I've already taken many pictures of it, hundreds of them.
I stand there... Look, there's Valerka, who'd just left, rushing back at full speed from the other direction. Look at that. On the hill he stops his horse, pats its neck fondly, tousles the mane. He sits and stares into the distance, and all around. He doesn't see me. Then he starts to rise up on the horse. To stand on its back.
What a fool, I think. What does he think he's doing? Why the circus trick? Got nothing better to do? He grunts, and then he's straight up, balancing on the horse's back, his arms waving about. He glances down at the horse, to see if it's flattened its ears. The rest of the scene I watch through the viewfinder.
I look at him and ponder. Is there any other way to live? Soon there'll be the Cossack council. His wife will berate him, won't let him go to the meeting, saying there's more than enough to do around the farm. And suddenly the Cossack wants to rise even higher, to grab his cap from the ground at a gallop, whooping and whistling. Or at least like this, climbing up on his horse's back, to check how it's going, this life of his. Still at full boil?

According to modern standards of active successful growth passion for photography came to me pretty late in life. I have reached the acme (anc.-greek ακμή) age of 40, and my vision of the world has completed its formation from both, the aesthetic and visual, as well as spiritual and moral standpoints. That’s why everything that can be seen in my works is not a search of an artistic path or of a creative expression, but a pursuit to fill the frame with self-contained semantic load using visual methods available to my artistic education.

Noga Creative Union - Association of documentary photographers

Odessa: +38 050 788 1792

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