USSR gypsies by Soviet photographer Ljalja Kuznetsova
At the end of the 1970s Soviet photographer Ljalja Kuznetsova shot one of the gypsy camps in the USSR (in Turkmenistan), and later her gypsy series continued in Odessa steppes. “When they say that I worship free life of gypsies or something like that, I think, a photograph is kind of self-portrait of the photographer. When I mastered the camera, learned how to develop film, how it is printed, I began to search frames, conformable to my heart. Of course, for any of the rights of Roma, I did not fight, I just realized that in our society, they are deprived of many rights. Most of them are people who go to the horizon and the horizon moves away from them”.
Born in the USSR photographer Ljalja Kuznetsova has been engaged in photography for over 30 years. She compiled a gallery of portraits of cultural figures, worked for Tatarstan of newspapers and magazines. Now she travels to photo expeditions, actively exhibits and lectures at the School for Photography of Rodchenko and the School of Contemporary Photography. In the United States, Germany and the UK were published three books of the outstanding Soviet and Russian photographer Ljalja Kuznetsova. That’s not counting the publications of her work in foreign photo albums devoted to our country.
Tatar by nationality, Kuznetsova was born in 1946 in the city of Uralsk, Kazakh SSR. She graduated from the State Kazan Aviation Institute, after which she worked as an engineer, and in the late 1970s became interested in photoart. Since 1978, she has worked as a photographer at the Kazan State Art Museum of Tatarstan.
Kuznetsova participated in the meetings of photographers in Lithuania, and in late 1970 was accepted into the Union of Lithuanian Photographers. In the early 1980s, she worked as a photographer for the newspaper “Evening Kazan”, dealing with issues of contemporary fashion. Since that time, Kuznetsova became a freelance photographer and worked for the Republican fashion house of Tatarstan.
Ljalja Kuznetsova was a participant of the legendary group “TASMA”. Since the mid-80s her works have been exhibited and published in the US and Europe, including the gallery of Art in Washington.
Roma – people living way, their presence on the ground is not constrained by the conventions of a hierarchical two-faced society, their wise children and adults, like babies, believe in miracles.
Ljalja Kuznetsova pictures what she sees. Like all artists, she does not see everything. Her eyes – the filters of her soul. And what she sees – a reality, filled with the poetry of freedom, suffering and pride.
Daughter in Tatar family of modest means, brought up in the Muslim tradition, she grew up to become a good housewife, faithful wife and loving mother. But in the childhood memories were gypsies in the yard of her aunt. She watched with genuine curiosity these graceful tanned people.” She looked at the lights of their campfires at night and listened to their songs. She saw their carts on the road, but could not follow them, because walking in the gypsy camp was not allowed.
Upon graduation, her working as aeronautical engineer ensured her stable earnings. Ljalja fell in love, got married and had a daughter. She continued to work, and it seems no coincidence that her work had already been associated with space and air – two elements that in the future will play such an important role in her photos.
Her husband died unexpectedly. She was left alone with a small daughter. What gave her the courage to follow her old dream, this time picking up a camera? To become a photographer and try to earn for a living from it was difficult. It meant to change the stable existence to a life of wandering and uncertainty. Inside her must have been hiding some power, derived from making vital decisions. Soon after she broke up with the position of the photographer in the Kazan State Museum of Art, Ljalja decided to work independently.
Fate soon confirmed the correctness of her decision: with her brother she went by car to the Ural steppes. They decided to turn off the main road and came across a gypsy camp on the near side of the river. Children ran out to look at them, Ljalja and her brother followed them to the tents. They gave the kids some souvenirs, and Ljalja began to take pictures of women and men sitting on the ground. Gypsies do not like to be photographed, but she knew that she had found what she was looking for: people, having got their soul. Gypsies slowly let the young woman with the appearance, something resembling their own, in their own world, which she photographed for the next 15 years.
Leica Medal of Excellence (Mother Jones) 1997
Grand Prix of the City of Paris
Ljalja Kuznetsova «Shaking the Dust of Ages: Gypsies and Wanderers of the Central Asian Steppe»
Ljalja Kuznetsova «Gypsies: Free Spirits of the Open Steppe» London.
Lala Kuznetsova, “The Road.”