Did We Ever Meet? - a book by Elena Kholkina made during the ISSP workshop "Photobook - Going Beyond the Form", with Teun van der Heijden - International Summer School of Photography, Kuldīga, Latvia, 3-11 August 2013
1991 is the year I took my first glimpse. It happened somewhere around Ganja, which at the time was being affected in quite a few ways by the collapse of the USSR. For starters, its citizens were fleeing the place and moving abroad, motivated by the vanishing of work and opportunities for a decent future. It was mostly the adult males that had to leave their families behind.
1991 also happened to be the year of the Nagorni- Karabah war. And because of it, one of those men leaving Ganja was my own father, shortly after I had been born.I recall a few details from visiting him during my early years, being still two or three. And in time, I had the chance to re-live the slippery -and yet really clear- memories of my visits to the region.
Travelling in general was not something I enjoyed as a child. I found those hours spent in-transit long and boring. Until I realised that I could make time go by faster if I filled my mind up with images. And images turn into memories easy.
When it came the time to attend university, I moved to the US and started studying Computer Science. But I started to get into Photography shortly after, and with a passionate fierceness. Ultimately it made me change my feelings about my major and I return to Azerbaijan not too long after quitting school.
Despite the short amount of time I had spent away, things back home felt both familiar and alien. With that set of estranged eyes I started moving around the country, meeting and talking to people from all paths of life. And I, of course, took pictures... tirelessly.
At some point along my wandering around what we could call the backyard of Azerbajan -away from the more obvious city landscapes, abruptly carved with the money from the third oil boom, which no one I was meeting seemed to be benefitting from- I felt as if I had accessed a space frozen back in time. Such trip could make you dizzy. It felt as if someone had managed to retain not only the more sensual aspects of life in the USSR, the way they had formed in my imagination anyway: its smells, the touch, textures, the materials, the light and sound; but it was as if a social consciousness was also carefully being constructed by the media in a way that people lived in a reality of their own.