• sablin cover mockup

Aunties: The Seven Summers of Alevtina and Ludmila
Photographs by Nadia Sablin

Selected by Sandra S. Phillips to win the seventh biennial CDS/Honickman First Book Prize in Photography

Published by the Duke University Press and CDS Books of the Center for Documentary Studies

88 pages | 11 x 8.25 | 54 color photographs
$45.00, hardcover | ISBN 978-0-8223-6047-6

    • line 441x1 gray 61tall


“Nadia Sablin, who was born in Russia but has lived in the United States since she was a girl, has visited her father’s sisters each summer for seven years now, finding comfort in knowing them and celebrating the lives they have chosen for themselves. . . . Their bright clothing, the pleasing picturesqueness of their home and surroundings, bring to mind the bright-colored illustrations in Russian fairy-tale books that were so important to such modern artists as Wassily Kandinsky. In these pictures it is always spring or summer, the garden flourishes, the women enjoy the span of the seasons. The photographs are warm with an aroma of the magical. . . . [Sablin] chooses to show their way of living as almost enchanted: we can hardly believe that what we see in these pictures will ever disappear.”
Sandra S. Phillips, Prize Judge

 “In 1952, my grandfather began to lose his vision as a result of being wounded in World War II. Wanting to return to the place where he grew up, he found an unoccupied hill in a village north of St. Petersburg, close to his brothers, sisters, and cousins. He took his house apart, log by log, and floated it down the Oyat River to its present location and reconstructed it. More than sixty years later, this house is still occupied by my aunts from April to September. The two women, who spent their youth working in big cities and never married, have relied on each other for support and companionship all their lives. I have been spending my summers with them, photographing their habits and occupations and the small world that surrounds them. Leaving and returning again divides our time into chapters, as the story moves toward its inevitable end.”
Nadia Sablin

In northwest Russia, in a small village called Alekhovshchina, Nadia Sablin’s aunts spend the warmer months together in the family home and live as the family has always lived—chopping wood to heat the house, bringing water from the well, planting potatoes, and making their own clothes. Sablin’s remarkably lyrical and evocative photographs, taken over seven summers, capture the small details and daily rituals of her aunts’ surprisingly colorful and dreamlike days, taking us not only to another country but to another time. Alevtina and Ludmila, now in their seventies, seem both old and young, as if time itself was as seamless and cyclical as their routines—working on puzzles, sewing curtains, tatting lace, picking berries, repairing fences—and as full of the same subtle mysteries. Sablin collaborated with her aunts to recreate scenes she remembered from her childhood and to make new images of the patterns of their days. In these photographs, Sablin combines observation and invention, biography and autobiography, to tell the stories of her aunts’ life together, and in the process, quilts together a thoughtful meditation on memory, aging, and belonging.

An excerpt from Sandra S. Phillips’s foreword:

“Like so many representations of our own American farm families of the past, the sisters seem to exist in a privileged, even charmed, reality. This is not to minimize their effort, which is acknowledged. They are no longer young and their necessary chores demand effort. They cut the tall summer grass with a scythe; they make their own clothes just as their parents once did. They clearly have limited means, but we also sense that this is a life they have chosen and that they are happy. Their home is seen as a place of ancient custom; they know who they are and are content with what they do.

“Lives like these used to be normal everywhere, but they are at a remove, even antique, now. Though the sisters live with deliberate modesty, their lives are shown as full of meaning and pleasure. Sablin also admits to directing her aunts a little, probably to emphasize the folkloric nature of what she sees. We know that this kind of life will feel even more remote and virtually impossible to pursue in the near future.

“More people in the world now live in cities than in the countryside, while we, who live in cities, may mythologize the measured rituals of country living, the country is generally not where we choose to raise our families. Many of the customs of self-sufficiency in farming communities have already disappeared, and farming has now become, in our country and others, a specialized occupation where the goal is to make a profit, not to live fully and harmoniously.”

    • line 441x1 gray 61tall

Photo Gallery

    • line 440x1 gray 61tall

Events and Exhibitions

Talk, Book Signing, and Reception
November 12, 2015, 5:30–7:30 p.m.
Rubenstein Photography Gallery and the Holsti-Anderson Family Assembly Room
Cosponsored by the Archive of Documentary Arts at the David M. Rubenstein Library

Radio Interview
The State of Things
November 12, 2015
Broadcast locally on WUNC

November 7, 2015–February 28, 2016
Rubenstein Photography Gallery
Cosponsored by the Archive of Documentary Arts at the David M. Rubenstein Library

    • line 441x1 gray 61tall

About the Authors

Nadia Sablin, a freelance photographer based in Brooklyn, New York, earned a B.F.A. from the Rochester Institute of Technology in 2002 and an M.F.A. from Arizona State University in 2011. Her work has been featured in such publications as the New York Times, the Guardian, the Moscow Times, Slate, American Photo, the Calvert Journal, and WPO’s The Magazine. Sablin, who has received the Firecracker Photographic Grant, a New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship, and a Puffin Foundation Grant, was named one of the Magenta Foundation’s Emerging Photographers in 2011, and was Sean O’Hagan’s Juror’s Pick for the Daylight Photo Awards in 2013. Sablin’s photographs have been seen in solo and group exhibitions across the United States, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center, the Southeast Museum of Photography, the Cleveland Museum of Art, Bellevue College in Washington, and Texas Women’s University School of Art. Sablin’s photographs of her Russian aunts were chosen from 200 entries to win the sixth biennial CDS/Honickman First Book Prize in Photography.

Sandra S. Phillips is the senior curator of photography at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Among the most recent exhibitions that she has curated for SFMOMA are South Africa in Apartheid and After: David Goldblatt, Ernest Cole, Billy Monk; Rineke Dijkstra: A Retrospective; and Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance, and the Camera Since 1870. Over her career, she has curated major exhibitions, including Crossing the Frontier: Photographs of the Developing West; William Klein New York 1954–1955; Police Pictures: The Photograph as Evidence; Diane Arbus: Revelations; Larry Sultan: The Valley; and Robert Adams: Turning Back. Phillips has authored or coauthored numerous catalogues, and her articles and essays have appeared in such journals as Art in America, DoubleTake, and History of Photography.

    • line 440x1 gray 61tall

The Center for Documentary Studies/Honickman First Book Prize in Photography is open to North American photographers who use their cameras for creative exploration, whether it be of places, people, or communities; of the natural or social world; of beauty at large or the lack of it; of objective or subjective realities. 

  • farmer 1200x1200