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Book of the Week: A Pick by Sarah Bradley

Book of the Week Book of the Week: A Pick by Sarah Bradley Sarah Bradley selects Tundra Kids by Ikuru Kuwajima as Book of the Week.
Tundra KidsBy Ikuru KuwajimaSchlebrugge Editor, 2016.
This week’s Book of the Week pick comes from Sarah Bradley who has selected Tundra Kids by Ikuru Kuwajima from Schlebrugge Editor.

"Tundra Kids is a square, hand-sized leporello that gently unfolds to reveal a Russian boarding school for Nenets children. Traditionally nomadic, the Nenets people of the Russian arctic region are increasingly sending their children to boarding schools to be educated throughout the winter, specifically so they can learn Russian and become acquainted with modern culture. After waiting 10 months for approval, Ikuru Kuwajima was permitted to make portraits of the children in one of these schools, capturing the intersection of these dual worlds. It sounds straightforward, but Kuwajima’s nuanced depiction is layered.

Photographed in classrooms and other areas around the boarding school, Kuwajima doesn’t isolate his subjects. While they are typically centrally positioned, often in front of a white backdrop and lit with strobes, Kuwajima includes a large amount of the room surrounding his sitters. Because of this the flash feels odd, otherworldly. The subject is almost eerily well-lit in comparison to the rest of the frame, which emphasizes the set-up and strangeness inherent to the process. But by making his photographic presence obvious Kuwajima actually manages to vanish. His purposeful arrangement is only one aspect of these images; children populate the edges of the photographs acting as assistants by holding lights or simply existing in these spaces in learning or play. The multi-leveled participation makes the images feel collaborative and invites an active form of looking. Alive and honest, emanating with natural expressions of shyness and joy, exuberance and wariness, these images belong to the kids.

Reflective of the complicated world Nenets kids live in, the details of their classrooms also creep in, exhibiting an uncertain mishmash of Russian and Nenets items. The lives of these children are two-sided — as is the book, which first presents the images taken within the school, portraits and occasional photographs of objects emblematic of traditional Nenets life; the reverse reproducing drawings by the children of life with their families on the tundra, mixing in a handful of snapshots of tundra life as well.

I can’t recall another book that's been so instantly and universally admired by our small but opinionated bookstore staff. Tundra Kids connects quickly. It is charming but never cloying, its depictions curious without feeling exoticized, and packs a stunning amount into a modest volume."—Sarah Bradley

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Tundra KidsBy Ikuru KuwajimaSchlebrugge Editor, 2016.
Tundra KidsBy Ikuru KuwajimaSchlebrugge Editor, 2016.

photo by Brandon Soder

Sarah Bradley is a writer, sculptor and the Editor of photo-eye Blog. She recently worked with Meow Wolf on the exhibition The House of Eternal Return.

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