New East Digital Archive

This Skype photo series shows hope still blooms in locked down Moscow

When the quarantine began in Moscow, photographer Nastya Yakovleva found a creative way to keep in touch with her friends and continue to work.

3 July 2020
This article was produced as part of Russia Z’s Open Call scheme, which supports emerging writers, photograms and creatives from Russia. Click here for more information or to submit an idea for a project for consideration.

“You know, I’m not a commercially successful photographer,” jokes Nastya Yakovleva. “But now that we’re in the quarantine, I actually have more work than I’m used to.”

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Yakovleva started taking photographs over Skype after hosting a virtual birthday party with her friends. “When I saw how beautiful their houses looked via web cam, I asked if any of them would like to have their portraits taken.”

While other photographers are using similar methods during the Covid-19 lockdown, Yakovleva combines her work with screenshots from Yandex.Maps, Russia’s answer to Google Street View. “I thought of all of us being stuck in different Moscow neighbourhoods, inside these prefab buildings that I love so much, and at first I just wanted to look at some of these buildings myself,” says Yakovleva. “Later on, I started making these collages, using the found images of the buildings. There is no grand idea behind it all, really — it’s just nice to see non-standard people living in this very standardised housing.”

During video calls with her subjects, Yakovleva photographs the computer screen with her camera, embracing all the imperfections that it captures — particularly the distorted light. Shoots are scheduled according to the weather forecast and the time of day when her friends’ and clients’ flats get the most sunlight.

Another must for every video call is a house tour, during which she gets to know the person on the other side of the screen. “Sometimes people don’t really want to talk at the start and it might feel a bit awkward,” the photographer says. “But I ask them to show me around so that I can see the space and the options it offers, and usually this relaxes everyone.”

But despite the constraints at the very centre of each shoot, Yakovleva decided not to name the series after the Coronavirus or any of the changes it brought into our lives, from lockdown to social distancing. “I wanted a more hopeful title,” she says. “As they say, spring is not cancelled.”

Follow Nastya on her Instagram page