The exhibition of Lyalya Kuznetsova

19.04 – 3.06 – My roads of Ljalja Kuznetsova. Ljalja is undoubtedly a legend of Russian photography, her works are shown worldwide from New-York to Berlin and Paris. 

She was born in 1946 in Uralsk, Kazakhstan. That’s where she studied in the Kazan State Aviation Institute and worked as an aviation engineer before she made her first steps in the photography in the end of 1970-s, after her husband was dead. 

In 1978 Ljalja worked as a photograph in Kazan State Museum of Art, and in 1979 she was admitted to the Lithuania Photograph Union. From 1980 to 1982 she was a photo-reporter for “Evening Kazan” newspaper and after that – a free photograph. 

Her works were many times shown in Europe and the US, including Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. In 1997 Kuznetsova was awarded the Mother Jones Leica Medal of Excellence prize as well as Grand-Prix of Paris photo biennale. 

Ljalja currently lives in Kazan, while her daughter, Vlada, and her grand-daughter, Anais, and grand-son, Saveliy, live in Moscow. 


Ljalja is one of those, for whom a photography is an instrument of researching the life and the society. In the end of 70-s Ljalja succeeded to photograph one of the last gipsy camping ground on the USSR territory (in Turkmenistan), and later on her gypsy series continued somewhere amid the plains of Odessa. How come that gypsies, habitually so closed towards “foreigners”, literally accepted Ljalja into their lives, let her watch their customs, capture those precious moments, depicting them into the film? Maybe, the secret is in the approach. 

Ljalja mentioned: “When they say, that I praise the free life of gypsies or something like that, I think: the photograph that one makes – is a kind of his self-portrait. When I learned how to use the camera, learned, how to develop a film, how it is all printed, I started looking for images, close to my heart. Eventually, I didn’t fight for any gipsies rights, I just understood, that they are deprived of a number of rights in our society. The majority of them are people, who are marching towards the horizon, but the horizon marches away from them”. 

Those “self-portraits” form the photographic legacy of Ljalja Kuznetsova. The photograph creates unique and vivid images by letting inside himself what he sees through the camera and by comparing it to what happens inside himself, hidden from people’s eyes. The perspective, the point of view, may change as time goes on (and Ljalja stated, while having a look on some of her older photographs: “now I would make it in an other way, I would choose something different from that situation”), something never changes: a photography is and will always be “the language” of the photographer, his way of communication with the world, his trace in the world. 

It is not enough to come and just have a look on Ljalja’s photos to understand her art. The best thing would be to watch the process itself, follow her, live the same situations in the same geographical conditions. Now this is no longer possible, but it is possible to at least get familiar with a video-witness of her fellow men: short film “My roads”, where Ljalja talks about her own “roads”, with some of them being already finished while other are yet to follow. 

“It is only when you are old that you understand, that life is so short, in fact. And this road is far from being long, too. When you start, you tend to hurry up – oh, when am I going to grow up? My Anais is doing the same thing now – “Oh, when will I become big?” I say to her – where do you rush? I tell her the same thing I was told myself – being a goat, don’t rush into the forest, all wolves will be chasing you. And life proves this, and nowadays it is even more dangerous, in what is about wolves, you know”. 

It’s a well-known fact that photography is a projection of reality, a projection that a photographer rethinks and transports into the borders of reality. Maybe this is also available for other kinds of art, but photography has its own special instrument and Ljalja uses this one perfectly. But her photographic talent is broadly recognized not only for this. There are two more aspects, maybe even more noticeable, that make her photographs special. 

The first one is human feelings. Ljalja admires that ones, feelings of joy, of sadness. One might even think that it is not people that she photographs, but their feelings and this fact, as one of Ljaljas’s friends pointed out: “is a visual poetry that penetrates inside you so much, that you feel a kind of disquietude in your heart, but good disquietude”. When a photograph can provoke such feeling in another human being, he becomes truly great. And Ljalja can do that. She leaves to the world the idea, that even the most dirty and lost in nowhere place can be highly poetical, incredibly touching. 

The second aspect is an attention for details, additional information. Ljalja magically “puts out” details of scenes from everyday life, and she knows how to “prepare” them. Not only can she “see” the genre, but also she knows how to seize the moment. And so, the ordinary man becomes a true model. Ljalja, really curious and passionate, would not be famous worldwide without such qualities. She just loves people, shows compassion for them. And this factor outweighs all other – any technical skill, any feel of conjuncture. Ljalja is motivated by the love for people, she is interested in the human face. But this may not be a type of face we are used to seeing on the cover of a slick magazine, but the simplest face, which can even provoke abruption. It’s a live personnage. 

“It is just my life, and photography is my language. I capture the look, the contact that may happen between me and my hero. The rest.. The color would only distract me”. 

In the end we see the final photography and it can be a subject for the whole movie. This photography lives and will have its own life, it is no longer a property of whomever – nor the spectator, nor Ljalja. 

And Ljalja is like this, too. According to her own acknowledgement, as soon as she grabs the camera, she looses the aura of her family, becomes a gipsy too, a part of the camping ground. Later, of course, she reconstructs that family aura, but at that moment her photographic aura is gone. This happens all the time: she has to close the door and leave her house to start working. Leave everything behind. And then come back, always come back. 

“I have already completed myself. I have left a trace. My house is built. Maybe, there are some details left, but I can go now and leave my aura in that house. I have left the trace, it may live. Remember, happiness is so ephemeral. If you are given that minute of happiness, just remember it, remember, because it would disappear right away, just like fireworks. Earlier I could admire the flower in blossom, but now I know – it will inevitably fade”. 

You can visit Ljalja Kuznetsova, follow her roads and admire the free, unbounded gipsy culture from April, 19, in the Art of Foto gallery, located in Saint-Petersburg, Bolshay Konushennaya str, 1. Photographs for the exposition are provided by the Museum of Russian Photography, Kolomna.