Dina Dubrovskaya | Saransk, Russia

Hi Dina, thank you for submitting your work. Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself.
Hi, thanks for having me! I am 25 years old and I am a self-taught portrait and documentary photographer from Saransk, Russia.

When did you first become interested in photography?
I started taking photographs about six years ago, when I was at university - I was really into self-portraits at the time. I guess that’s when I got interested and started looking at works of different photographers trying to recreate something I liked in my own pictures.  

What does photography mean to you?
Photography is a perfect way to tell stories. I have a long way to go before I learn to tell a story with a single portrait.

In your project „Instant yearbook" you are photographing the pupils of small village schools in the region of Mordovia. How did you come up with this idea?
I live in Mordovia which is a region located in Central Russia and my family initially comes from one of Mordvinian villages. When I was a child I used to spend every summer living in this village and I could see how different life was there. When I got older I didn’t visit so often, but every time I came I felt inspired to show what I saw, to transform my love for this place into something tangible. Then once I got a chance to visit the local school and look inside this little isolated world and see its few inhabitants. The kids were amazing – open and funny, bright and rebellious. That’s when I had the idea of visiting more villages and more village schools, taking portraits of the pupils.  

Can u explain us how different life is in small villages in Russia compared to big cities?
I am not going to talk about economic side of the question, I am just not a person to do it. In villages you more than ever feel the importance of human relationships, the history of the place and of the country is more palpable, everything is more naked and raw – these are important things for which I keep coming back to villages.

How does village schools differ from schools located in cities? In your description you wrote that some of the schools will be closed to the lack of students.
Yes, unfortunately it’s true – several schools I’ve visited are going to be shut down because there aren’t enough pupils. This is something happening all over Russia, not only here in Mordovia. Some of the schools I’ve photographed are really tiny having only about 30 kids as their students. I find that it creates a special atmosphere which I appreciate when I come to photograph. Everybody knows each other, older kids help first-graders, teachers are your next-door neighbors – they are all in this together. They always take pride in what they have and what they create and I feel so honored to be allowed into this little world.

Was it challenging taking portraits of children? Did you give the kids any direction?
I love working with kids and teenagers and I’m so used to it now that I am afraid I will have more troubles taking photos of adults J I usually try to photograph the kids exactly as I find them, though from time to time I suggest a place which is better lit. I talk to children a lot while I work, usually about their school life in general, about their interests, pets and friends. I tell them to smile if they want to and some of them do, but some (especially boys) prefer looking serious and businesslike. This always makes me smile.  

What is your goal with this project?
I always send the photos to the schools so they can have something like a yearbook, which is especially important for schools that are going to be closed soon, I think. But I’d lie if I said this was the main goal of my project. For me it’s all about discovery - travelling to isolated places and meeting new exciting people.

Tell us a bit about the photography scene in Russia. Is there any work of female photographers you can recommend?
I admire Russian photographer Olya Ivanova who works a lot with documentary portraiture, she’s amazing!

Do you have any upcoming projects that you like to share with our readers?
I am going to continue with “instant yearbook” for a while, but I’ve also been thinking about going back to my village and working on a bigger project there. Hopefully it’ll work out.