The Fabulous Russian Photographer Who Hid Her Art in the Attic
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Masha Ivashintsova’s photos never saw the light of day — until her daughter started cleaning the attic.
By Dan Peleschuk
As far as housecleaning goes, Asya Ivashintsova-Melkumyan got more than she bargained for. What began as an otherwise routine renovation of her St. Petersburg home last year led to the discovery of a lifetime. Rummaging through the attic with her husband, Ivashintsova-Melkumyan found a trove of some 30,000 negatives and undeveloped photographs belonging to her late mother, Masha Ivashintsova.
Asya knew her mother had been plugged into the city’s Soviet-era artistic community, and she was always taking pictures. “For her,” Asya says, “it was a natural process that was intertwined with her life.” In images spanning four decades, Ivashintsova captured the monotony, humor and quiet tragedy of everyday life under communism. More than just street photography, her work is clearly colored by a deep interest in her subjects. “She has a really humane language,” says Anna Shpakova, a veteran photo editor in Moscow.
But few ever saw Ivashintsova’s photographs. She believed she was eclipsed by the formidable creative men in her life, and so she squirreled away her invaluable visual records of Soviet life. Victim of a tyrannical system that had targeted so many of her compatriots, Ivashintsova was committed to a series of mental hospitals, robbed of the opportunity to fully realize her art.
Now, nearly two decades after her mother’s death in 2000, Asya is presenting her uniquely captivating work to the world. And, albeit posthumously, Ivashintsova may finally be receiving the recognition as a female Soviet photographer — of which there were precious few — she has long deserved.
- Dan Peleschuk, OZY Author Contact Dan Peleschuk