The images comprising this project were made in Ukraine, at a still-operating, Soviet-era orphanage called an "Internat". Taking control over the lives of young females marked with disabilities for a variety of reasons, the Internat institution, guided by a male Director, carries the girls into adulthood in isolation.
With intermittent access granted by the Director, Drake actively collaborated with the residents, drawing ideas about femininity and deviance from fairy tales, art history, and their joint intuitions. The natural environment, found objects, and the thick walls surrounding the facility, became vehicles for exploring questions about individual vs collective identities, physical entrapment, the freedom of the imagination, and the construction of normal female behavior.
The artwork that opens and closes the book was made over the pages of a book about Taras Shevchenko, a 19th century Ukrainian artist, ethnographer, serf, peasant, poet and imprisoned political figure who is widely revered today. Drake invited the women to paint on the artwork made by Shevchenko and his male contemporaries. In doing so, the women became artists, creators, ethnographers, and designers themselves. The power to revise a piece of art history has, in a sense, been put in the hands of a group of women who remain largely invisible.
The photographs were made between 2014 and 2016, but Drake's involvement with the women began years earlier when she was living in the region and first met and photographed them as children. She returned in 2014, expecting that the girls would have graduated out of the orphanage, but found most of them still living there.
Charlotte Cotton, curator of the 2018 Houston Center for Photography fellowship, writes:
"What especially draws me to Carolyn Drake's self-motivated projects is her creation of deeply layered accounts of lives well outside of received narratives. Her capacity to create engagement and participation with her subjects is exceptional and goes some way to explaining how she - even as an outsider - can render a portrayal of human existence that doesnt objectify these lives that she so carefully observes. Drakes photographs bring so much together - an astute reading of daily experiences that makes them resonate with the human consequences of social history; a protective visualizing of her subjects' emotional intelligence and pain; and the hopefulness through Drake - as the conduit - of the emancipatory photographic power of 'being seen.'"