This series was made at a still-operating Soviet orphanage which removes children with disabilities from society at large. In particular, this institution houses young females marked with disabilities, and carries them into adulthood in isolation. I actively collaborated with the residents, drawing ideas from cliches and fairy tales, and following our joint aspirations while passing time in the seclusion of the institution. Nature, objects found on the premises of the orphanage, and the thick walls surrounding the facility became vehicles for exploring questions about social control, individual vs collective identities, the freedoms 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. I invited the women to paint on the artwork made by Shevchenko and his male contemporaries, re-imaging the published pages of history. In doing so they became artists, creators, ethnographers, and designers themselves.
The images were made between 2014 and 2016, but my involvement with the women began years earlier when I was living in the region and first met and photographed them as children. I 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.'"