FARAWAY from HOME (excerpts)
9 .. … and on the other bank he found a hut – a wooden frame on column-stilts, covered with huge palm leaves; in it a bed, a table and a chair. In effect, everything he needed at that moment …
19 … why were not the words spoken? Is it because words at such moments are not needed? “Un pañuelo de silencio en la hora de partir” (a veil of silence at the time of parting), according to the custom of the Southern Old World.
25 … swallows settled on those shores of red sand. And if in the evenings they flew high up in the sky, then the night would most likely be starry, and the morning of the following day sunny and clear …
— Would you like one?
— And where?
— I would like a house by the sea, so that I could open the windows and see the water …
— And where is the sea that you would like to watch from the open window of your house? …
42 … as soon as he had any free time, he was taught to work, for which he was grateful many years later…
Вдали от Дома (фрагменты)
9.. … и на том берегу он нашел хижину – деревянный каркас на ножках-столбиках, покрытый огромными пальмовыми листьями, в нем кровать, стол и стул. Собственно все, что сейчас и нужно …
19 … почему не сказаны были слова? Потому ли, что слова в такие минуты не нужны? «Un pañuelo de silincio en la hora de partir» (платок молчания в час расставания), — согласно обычаю южных земель …
25 … в тех берегах из красного песка селились ласточки. И если вечерами они летали высоко в небе, то скорее всего ночь будет звездной, а утро следующего дня солнечным и ясным …
— А хотелось бы?
— А где?
— Хотелось бы мне дом на море, чтобы окна открыть и море видеть…
— И где это море, которое ты хотел бы видеть из открытого окна своего дома? …
42а … как только появлялось свободное время его приучали трудиться и за то, много лет спустя он испытывал благодарность …
FAR AWAY from HOME
Far Away from Home is a story in pictures. The main character is a sailor who once had a house, a native land and love. Love that he could not keep, love that became like a shipwreck. Thereafter for many years life tosses the sailor onto foreign shores. In this vast world the sailor thinks that somewhere there in the distance he will find his true happiness, his home. As he swims from one bank to the other, however, he begins to realize that his journey, filled with the temptations of unknown lands, is in fact an ordeal. In his wanderings he gets to know many lands and many people whose aspirations start to remind him of those of his native land. He arrives at an understanding of the unity and integrity of the world and hope is born. The sailor’s escape from himself eventually starts to become a road towards himself, a road home.
There are 50 photos in the project (colour and b/w), format 100 x 100, 80 х 80, 50 х 50 см.
The photographs are accompanied by a short story.
The stories behind an instant
I met photographer Valery Katusba in Merida, Yucatan, a couple of years back; by chance a mutual friend introduced us after the opening of an exhibition in a gallery. He appeared introspective and acted with caution when I asked him if he could show his work, which he carried in an elegant leather portfolio under his arm.
Upon viewing a few black and white prints, my sensation was that his work portrayed absence: the models engaged in poses that were no part of living experience but emblems of ideas; he portrayed the lives of people who posed for him, looking into his camera being like visions. Was he looking for classic perfection in the prima ballerina, or searching for the timeless splendor of male bodies in the portrait of Russian Olympic wrestlers? It struck me that he knew well that these were aesthetic values that had become a souvenir of the past, the failure of contemporary culture to come to terms with the pursuit of high standards in art.
Katsuba was born and raised in Belarus, trained as a sailor and is a photographer by heart; My first impression was that he seemed reluctant, but he accepted my suggestion that we look at his photographs right away. He laid out a group of them on a window sill and began to handle them like gallerists do: using a pair of black velvet gloves. He took the work into his hands and raised the print at eye level in front of my eyes, hiding his face behind it, as if he was presenting a musical score. His voice conveyed in highly articulated Spanish the tale behind the work.
As the improvised show came to an end, I realized that most of the work was the result of a deliberately staged mis an scène. Undoubtedly, the photographer had learned the tools of his trade from fashion photography, with its conscious handling of lights, pose, wardrobe, but no make-up in sight. He was looking for real life characters, people whose feelings he knew, individuals whose lives mattered. The dancers were my favorites, I had such a rush when looking at the white shrouds, the light passing through the veils, the veins showing below the skin. Precise and unadorned, those bodies were fitted to receiving the soft touch of light.
I knew photographers back in Mexico City that had a sensitivity to canonized beauty in the way that it is captured in classic architecture and sculpture. People like Guillermo Kahlo, father of Frida, and Katy Horna, the Hungarian surrealist who adopted Mexico as her own home during the 1950s. I discovered that Katsuba shared with them the same standards when, at a later date, I saw him for the first time shooting a group of indigenous ball players in the courtyard of the San Carlos Museum, a national treasure trove that specializes in visual arts of the 16th to 19th centuries.
Shortly after that photo session, Katusba and I seriously discussed what Baroque meant. On one hand, it seemed to me that the term baroque referred to an aesthetic whose aim is to capture and represent movement in architecture and sculpture, two main features of Katsuba’s photographs of athletes, modern dancers and life drawing models. On the other hand, for him, the tensions in the bodies that characterized his body of work reflected classic concerns with proportion, structure and stability, for which the art of staged photography is particularly well suited. I consider that staging a narrative expressing the avatars of our mortal coil is part of the larger drive in his oeuvre.
Turning life into pictures
Few photographers in the last century have attempted to use the camera from both sides: from behind the lens and posing in front of them. By eliciting stories of personal pain, or assuming other people’s lives, or experiencing the feelings, the intimate works of Francesca Woodman, the candid shots of Cindy Sherman or the outrageous revelations of Pierre Molinier, these artists have transformed photography into a genre different from self-portraiture, where the medium has been given a credibility far from narrative photography, due to the fictional presence of the author.
The works in this book (Faraway from Home) are witness to this serious and confident attempt to produce a document, a logbook, of the author’s voyages around the world. Taken by the lives of people he has befriended, Katsuba kept a visual diary, a bizarre one, where he makes himself a character by posing for the camera in emblematic situations: the breakup, the welcome, or the confrontation, to name a few.
A leap of his imagination allowed the artist to connect a series of shots and turn them into a narrative, connecting the dots on the maps of Eurasia, America and Africa. The result is captivating and puzzling because it pushes the viewer into creating a personal visual tale, joining the particular with the universal, the inner world with the external landscape. From the very first time he showed me the sequence I asked him how he managed to produce an epic of such scale in more than ten years of sailing through the world, like a modern day Ulysses.
Katsuba is reluctant to say that the compilation of that work has anything to do with himself; rather, he has attempted to re-construct a tale of human separation through a series of rites of passage, from the land into the sea, following rivers through mountains, from the dessert to the wetlands. Port cities and inland towns are the natural settings for his own performances.
It is evident that he plays the leading role in the cast, and that his character is also the witness to a passion play that involves the emotions of a life’s journey. Again, I could disagree with his perception of the whole and concur in some of the particulars. I read these photographs in a different sequence: where a decision made by a character takes him to another realm, which occurs simultaneously, in another space frame. The choice to capture the world results in a grid of numerous possibilities, reminding us of the mirroring effect: one sees the lives of certain others as a reflection of one’s own.
During our time together, I have been able to notice how Katsuba himself changes from being himself into being one with others. This is more visible when he directs his models into performing for the camera. Somehow, the artist is capable of turning into actors the camel shepherds in the sand dunes in the Arabian dessert or the young mother straying on the seafront in Buenos Aires. The result is captivating, for we know how difficult is to get a candid pose for us in front of the camera, and how easily we fail to hide our true emotions in a snapshot. But Valery Katsuba seems to be perfectly suited to the task of representation and, if I may say so, impersonation of those he has known by heart.
There is also the question of peering into peoples’ existence, usually the job of a photojournalist documenting a story; although this is far from the intentions of our photographer, there is indeed something in his gaze that brings the feeling of voyeurism in some of those images, where the intimacy of the scene is broken by the intrusion of the camera; for instance, the picture of a woman kneeling in a pond or the image of the sailor confronting himself by the sea. This self-portrait, by the way, is the last image in the book, but it could also be the first one; whether it is a reflection on personal history or a longing for a future, we can never be certain.
Katusba reveals in the book his talent as a storyteller. He is, no doubt about it, the sailor who has trailed the camera from Belarus to Chile, from Istanbul to Bangkok; the interloper and the witness of intimacy, the recorder of alternative worlds connected through his eye. His oeuvre reveals the stories behind the moment we all share in our memory.
Yucatan; winter, 2020.
 This photography session later became part of the exhibition Valery Katsuba, Photographer, held at Museo San Carlos, November 2018-April 2019, curated by the author.
ВДАЛИ ОТ ДОМА
«Вдали от Дома» – повествование в фотографиях. Главному герою – моряку – даны дом, родина, любовь. Любовь, которую он не сумел сохранить, что становится своеобразным «кораблекрушением». После чего многие годы жизнь «выбрасывает» главного героя на другие берега. Мир большой и моряку представляется, что где-то вдали и находится его настоящая жизнь, его дом. Однако, переплывая от одного берега к другому, он начинает понимать, что его путешествие, наполненное соблазнами незнакомых земель, – по сути, мытарства. И в них он познает другие земли, других людей, стремления которых все чаще начинают напоминать ему чаяния его родной земли. Он постигает целостность мира, и рождается надежда, что побег моряка «от самого себя» в итоге обернется дорогой к себе, дорогой к дому.
В проекте 50 фотография (цвет и ч/б), формат 100 х 100 см, 80 х 80 см, 50 х 50 см Фотографии сопровождает текст-повесть.