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Book Review: Russian Interiors


Book Review Russian Interiors By Andy Rocchelli Reviewed by Colin Pantall Andy Rocchelli died in 2014, killed while covering the conflict in Ukraine. Before that happened he’d worked in Russia. On his days off from doing serious work, he photographed single women in their apartments. It was a way of making money and provided relief from the stresses of attempting to make it in the world of hard-core photojournalism.

Russian Interiors. By Andy Rocchelli.
Cesura Publishing, 2014.
Russian Interiors
Reviewed by Colin Pantall

Russian Interiors
By Andy Rocchelli
Cesura Publish, Pianello Val Tidone, Italy, 2014. 125 pp., 70 color offset illustrations, printed in Italy by Grafiche Antiga., 6¼x8½".


Andy Rocchelli died in 2014, killed while covering the conflict in Ukraine. Before that happened he’d worked in Russia. On his days off from doing serious work, he photographed single women in their apartments. It was a way of making money and provided relief from the stresses of attempting to make it in the world of hard-core photojournalism.

As time went by, however, something strange happened. The portraits he made of these women in their apartments began to gain traction. The invitational glances and the outstretched legs began to add up to more than the sum of their parts. The wallpaper and soft furnishings added to the sense of claustrophobic disquiet and so a book was born.

A dummy was made in 2011 but the book was never published in Rocchelli’s lifetime due to economic considerations; Cesura, the collective of which Rocchelli was part, had no money. And so it wasn’t published until a Kickstarter campaign raised the funds following Rocchelli’s tragic death in eastern Ukraine.

Russian Interiors. By Andy Rocchelli. Cesura Publishing, 2014.

It’s sad that the book was only published in such terrible circumstances. It’s even more sad because it is such a strange and touching book. The cover is made of cloth that resembles ornate sofa fabric. It’s a mirror to the interiors. Open the book and the first picture is a double page spread of rows of grey Soviet-era apartment blocks. These are the homes where Rocchelli photographs. Drab buildings under a drab sky. It’s bleak.

Turn the page and then we’re into the pictures. A young, serious-looking woman with dyed blond hair wears a red Fred Perry dress. She stands in front of red drapes, her hands behind her back, an old-style TV to one side. Fold open the pages (Russian Interiors is full of gatefolds) and a woman is sitting on a sofa covered in a tiger-print blanket. Her legs are folded under her and she’s looking a bit dreamy, her left hand is resting on the empty spot on the sofa to her left.

Russian Interiors. By Andy Rocchelli. Cesura Publishing, 2014.
Russian Interiors. By Andy Rocchelli. Cesura Publishing, 2014.

The next page also has hands on the sofa. This time the gesture is more bold, with legs crossed at the ankles, leaning into the empty spot. These are all single women then? And these are some kind of pictures for dating sites?

There’s a Tolstoy quote at the beginning that sums this idea up; ‘The woman then turns to the moon, ravishing, searching for illusions in another life elsewhere, to justify the present bleakness.’

Open the pages again and we have double gatefolds that open up to reveal more sofas, soft furnishings and wallpaper. The women are more direct in their dress; a zebra-striped dressing gown with thigh showing, a woman staring directly at the camera, thighs on show again, and a woman on her knees, hands behind her back as though tied, head cropped off. But there to one side is a reminder of the other angle, a middle-aged lady with a pink woollen scarf with her hands on the sofa, the company she is seeking of a softer, gentler kind.

Russian Interiors. By Andy Rocchelli. Cesura Publishing, 2014.

Legs and hands and tights and gazes, heads kept in and heads cut off. Clothes are shed and breasts are bared and fuck-me looks become the order of the day. A degree of fetish and the sex industry creeps into the pictures but then you get the elderly lady with grey hair. She smiles and her hand is on the sofa as it should be, but her feet are bared and her skirt raised just that little bit to show her knees.

The book ends with a pair of stockinged feet shown on a sofa. We’ve seen a few stockings already, including a stocking-covered ass sticking up in the air, the head nowhere to be seen. This last pair of feet has the same kind of feel to it. We can see the soles, all stained and grubby, and then the legs stretch up out of frame.

Russian Interiors. By Andy Rocchelli. Cesura Publishing, 2014.

We never really get to know what Rocchelli was photographing in these Russian interiors. At the beginning of the book Rocchelli says that the project ended up being ‘…a key to get inside private spaces and stories, to better understand the intimate side of Russian women and the changes in Russian society,’ but it might be a bit more simple than that. And more universal. It’s a book about love and women trying to find it in whatever ways they see fit, seeking an illusion, selling an illusion and sometimes becoming an illusion.—COLIN PANTALL

Selected as one of the Best Books of 2014 by:
Martin Parr
Ramon Pez

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COLIN PANTALL is a UK-based writer and photographer. He is a contributing writer for the British Journal of Photography and a Senior Lecturer in Photography at the University of Wales, Newport. http://colinpantall.blogspot.com

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