Documentary

Like Last Year’s Snow

In a remote community of nomadic deer herders in Northern Siberia, photographer Oded Wagenstein visually documents the process of ageing in isolation.

In the remote village of Yar-Sale in Northern Siberia, live a group of elderly women. They were once part of a nomadic community of reindeer herders. However, in their old age, they spend most of their days in seclusion, away from nature and their community. While men are usually more encouraged to remain within the migrating community and maintain their social roles, the women often face the struggles of old age alone.

It took a flight, a sixty-hour train ride from Moscow, and a seven-hour bone-breaking drive across a frozen river for me to meet them. I immersed myself in their closed community, and for days, over many cups of tea, they shared their stories, lullabies, and longings with me. Longing for nature, gone parents and friends.

On this series, the memories of the past, represented by the images of the outside world, are combined with the portraits of current reality. By doing so, I tried to give their stories a visual representation. One that could last after they are already gone.

(*Like Last Year’s Snow is a Yiddish expression – referring to something which is not relevant anymore)

A convoy of reindeer, belonging to the Serotetto (white reindeer) family, during their migration over the frozen river of Ob. Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Russia.
A framed picture of a Nenets herder with the reindeer. Yar-Sale, Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Russia. For the Nenets, the reindeer are considered part of the family and have a place of honor in local culture and folklore.
Pudani Audi (born.1948). Yar-Sale, Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Russia. Pudani was born in the tundra and roamed since birth. In this portrait, she is wearing a fur hat, the sole object she was left with from her wandering days.
An official sign warning the local villagers that “going out to the ice is prohibited,” meaning that from this point on, tundra begins. Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Russia.
Autipana Audi (born.1941). Yar-Sale, Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Russia. Autipana experienced many sad losses. She lost her husband, son, and daughter to diseases, and a few years ago, her entire reindeer herd perished to starvation during a cold wave. Almost unable to walk, she spends her days mostly limited to her bed.
Nyadma Serotetto (3), part of the nomadic Nenets community, standing on his family’s wooden sleigh, during their migration over the frozen river of Ob. Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Russia.
An abandoned tank. Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Russia.
Angelina Serotetto (Born.1942). Yar-Sale, Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Russia. Angelina was part of a family of shaman women, and her mother taught her to read the future using sacred objects from nature.
Natasha Serotetto gathers the reindeer before migration. Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Russia.
A packed sled, owned by the Serotetto family, ready for migration. Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Russia.
A couch covered with snow. Yar-Sale, Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Russia.
Zinaida Evay (Born.1946) and her cat Persik (“peach” in Russian). Yar-Sale, Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Russia. Zinaida was married for many years. But today, after her husband passed away, she is living in their small apartment alone, with almost no one to come and visit.
The “Chum” – home of the Nenets. Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Russia.
Necla Audi (Born. 1928). Yar-Sale, Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Russia. Although Necla was 89 when this portrait was taken, she declared that she insists on returning to live with the migrating community. At the far left of her bed, a picture of her two sons, taken when they were young. Now, both of them are herders in the tundra.
An improvised cross, which marks the border between the village and the tundra. Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Russia. For tundra people, this cross marks the border between their world and the world of the “others” (non-tundra people) as they refer to them.
Abandoned houses. Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Russia.
Liliya Yamkina (Born. 1944). Yar-Sale, Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Russia. As a teenager, she was the only one in her clan who knew how to read. She said she still remembers how important she felt when she read everyone their letters and formal documents. However, the importance of her reading skills to the clan was also the reason that her father prevents her from going to college to become a teacher, which caused significant conflict between them. Now in her apartment, she writes love songs about the tundra, and her dream is to publish them in a magazine.
A lone deer, separated from his herd. Without the herd’s protection, the deer is likely to die. Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Russia.
Share

The photographer

Oded Wagenstein

Oded Wagenstein is a photographer and lecturer who uses the photographic medium to explore the relationship between Ageing and Exclusion.

Other featured work

The Void We Leave

By chance, Oded Wagenstein met and photographed an ageing community in Cuba, which led him to question what remains after we pass on?

Read More

Explore More

Sideshow

Photographer Chris Harrison shoots street photography that delights with a confection of chance, composition, colour and playfulness.

Read More

Monuments

‘Monuments’ is a series of collaborative photographs by Jocelyn Janon in which he aims to capture the power, spirit and charisma of the female body.

Read More

Rear Window

Photographer Jocelyn Janon visualises the mood and feelings he had as a young boy, creating worlds in the back of his father’s Citroen.

Read More

On a soif

Photographer Jef Van den Bossche’s images capture the dying of the light for Belgium’s volkscafés, or people’s pubs, in the face of globalisation and cultural shifts.

Read More
Menu