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Ekaterina Solovieva Takes Us Inside “The Earth’s Circle”

A baptism. Kolodozero, Karelia, Summer 2014.

Fireworks at Christmas. Kolodozero, Karelia, Winter 2015.

Viktor fishing on the lake. Kolodozero, Karelia, Summer 2017.

In northernmost Russia lies the village of Kolodozero, a series of small hamlets including Lakhta, Isakovo, Ust’-Reka, Pogost, Zaozerye, and Dubovo that are concealed within the woods of Pudozh on the border between Arkhangelsk Oblast and Karelia. Around the turn of the millennium, three friends from Moscow made their way to Kolodozero in search of the meaning of life and their purpose on earth. They began raising money to build a new church to replace the one that burned down in 1977.

In 2005, Arkady Shlykov, one of the three friends, was ordained as priest of the new church. At first he was looked upon with suspicion, but over time the locals came to love the shaggy red-haired rebel and punk whose peaceful character embodied the ethos of the church. His presence and leadership restored to the people all that had been lost, creating a new parochial life that renewed the ties between families, neighbors, and the earth.

Like the friends, Russian photographer Ekaterina Solovieva traveled from her native Moscow to Kolodozero to document their world, exploring what keeps the community united as a people. The result is The Earth’s Circle. Kolodozero (Schilt).

“Everyone who comes to Arkady’s home in Kolodozero, or to his church for the service is running away, from somewhere or something,” Solovieva writes in the book. “From the urban noise or weariness, from the absurdity of life, from themselves, from their former selves, from their sins or wrongs. Arkady himself is a fugitive, more than once he has said that he was here, ‘because I am weak, the strong are able to leave.’”

Yet the strong will return after they become weak, to the nurturing of their childhood and the open arms of the people. It is these people that Solovieva studies in her work, giving us a year in the life that begins and ends with winter, evoking the never-ending sensation of living in the north.

“Thus turn the seasons on the land of Kolodozero: Summer, fall, the interlude to winter, winter, Easter, and summer again. Here, one’s heart would beat as if on the first visit. Here, every time is the first time,” Solovieva writes.

In The Earth’s Circle. Kolodozero, Solovieva offers a deeply intimate mediation on the nature of life in this rural world, one that seems to be frozen in time in more ways than one. It is a portrait of the people living on the land, surviving the elements through the practice of tradition and a deep connection to each other.

Solovieva paints a detailed portrait of the people in her photographs and stories, giving us insight into the way they live and the way they engage with her. Each story provides a window into this foreign world, reminding us just how familiar life is, no matter where it is lived.

“Grandma Shura is chopping wood in the yard,” Solovieva begins before giving us a touch of telling dialogue: “’How I love chopping wood! Dry and brittle birch billet is the best. Now that Grandpa is still drinking, I’m taking advantage. Otherwise he’d hide the axe from me.’ Her woollen shawl drops to reveal her short greyish hair strands. Evening in the summer is soft and bright. You have to fight off the merciless Karelian mosquitoes. As I look at Grandma Shura and listen to the axe’s clinking, she still won’t let me help her out. Grandma and Grandpa have been together for their entire lives.”

This sense of continuity exists throughout the book, creating a feeling of warmth that belies the harsh climes of their world. The Earth’s Circle. Kolodozero can be read as both a study of a people as well as a sort of fairy tale, a place where lessons are learned by virtue of harmonizing with the earth and with each other.

Cranberry gatherers ride in the tractor to the swamp.
Kolodozero, Karelia, Autumn 2012.

Arkadiy sits on the porch of one of the village houses and basks in the sun.
Kolodozero, Karelia, Spring 2017.

Cat Boris sits on the windowsill in the priest’s room, midst creative disorder.
Kolodozero, Karelia, 2011.

Easter. Guests gather for a festive meal at the priest’s house.
Kolodozero, Karelia, Spring 2014.

A baptism. Kolodozero, Karelia, Summer 2014.

All images © Ekaterina Solovieva

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