Zaton: layer under layer


Story & Photos: Anton Klimov, Julia Sellman

In my own inner dictionary “Zaton” (roughly translated as backwater or a boat yard) derives from the word “flooded”. Even to Julia, who came from Germany, I was explaining that the place is flooded by the Angara, that is why it is called like that. Somehow I did not see it as a place for fixing boats. Just a mysterious flooded place. Again, not the best of places. But the boats I saw from this bank of the river wouldn’t give me any peace, the aesthetic part of it. I just had to get up and go there. Because when would I go there if not now?

vk f

Anton: Everyone we asked on our way would say there was only one way to get there – from the Angara bridge. This entrance is narrow as a bottle neck, through which you squeeze and squeeze…

Anton: Our first experience was vivid and truly bright. We were walking across the bridge – noise, cars all around. We turned right, walked on a little and realized we were practically in silence. Once in five minutes there was a car driving there – whoosh, – and back – whoosh. Some school students passing by. That’s it. Almost everyone we met were aged 10 to 15. Saturday. Someone was riding a scooter; someone was just going about their business.

Anton: We were walking through a gloomily industrial landscape – scraps of fences, some pipes… Odd and beautiful at the same time.

Julia: Naturally, I have been to dockyards before, but not where there are so many broken boats. And this is some sort of mix of a dockyard and an industrial area. And a contrast: a living river versus the quietly motionless boats. We took photos of everything around, but not for a long time, maybe ten minutes. Then a security guard came along and kicked us out.

Anton: There goes the classic: “Hey! What the hell are you taking pictures of? It’s actually forbidden here!” I said: “Hi, we’re just tourists. Walking around. The door was open. Is there a problem? We haven’t seen any signs…” Playing dumb, as usual. I smile. The man softens a little: “There’s a lot of stealing – both day and night… Aluminum is 30 rubles per kilo, by the way. Lead can even be more expensive”.

There’s the sound of a sawmill. We can hear people working. “This, – the man explains, – is the Chinese taking some quarters on lease, they mill here. They bring the timber here, mill it and leave. We have huge premises here, huge opportunities, but the only use for that is renting it out”. That’s a classical situation: everything is destroyed and sold out, but they seem to have everything.

Anton: While we are standing there, a huge crane glides on the water – epic view. “Well, it has worked for a day, that’s it… Who knows what’s next…” In the end the security guard made it clear that this area was closed, implying “get out of here”, but “it’s possible to arrange with the bosses”. Something like “In theory that’s possible, but not now, sorry”.

Julia: When the guard kicked us out, we decided to explore the area. I’m interested in teenagers anywhere, and we happened to see a group of  young people right then. Since we had a little research to do, I suggested that Anton and I should follow the group.

For the German project participants both Irkutsk and “Gorod inahce” (“The City Otherwise”) were supposed to start not with the historical center but with places closer to day-to-day life. Among ourselves we called these walks “landing operations”: small, mixed-nationality groups of 2-3 people  headed to places where tourists usually don’t go. It turned out that it is not only tourists who don’t go there: in many places our Irkutsk participants were there for the first time too. We chose three stories for the publication. Strangely, all of them got us to the rivers. Although that coincidence was not without reason: Irkutsk was built on rivers and made a living out of them. Nowadays this connection is not so obvious but it hasn’t disappeared.

Anton: We went somewhere deeper into the neighborhood latching onto the school guys. We ended up in a somewhat stagnating place: wooden toilets, tiny houses – a semi-rural style. The atmosphere was very weird – silence and tension at the same time. I guess, stereotypes about the place arose. There was seemingly no source of danger, but there was the appearance and the effect of getting into a completely different, half-devastated space through a narrow corridor.

Anton: A house. I would have walked passed, but Yulia said: “Shall we go in?” The windows were shuttered and it was clear that at least half of the house was abandoned.  Four flats. Only one of them was locked. We entered all the others.

Anton: Julia got very emotional because of all the reality, aesthetics, space arrangement.

Julia: The main question I was constantly asking myself was why had these people left these things behind? Some of them were quite intact. What had made them abandon their house? There was one huge tin. And a lot of caps from plastic bottles. They were all of different colours, as if they were a collection. There were a lot of items in the house that could raise questions but they were all rather ordinary. But these caps were something unusual. They made me think of the people who used to live there. The one who collected them – what kind of a person is he? How old is he, what does he do?

Anton: We looked around one flat, and I wanted to go up the stairs. Yulia said: “It might be dangerous. It may fall through”. I said: “Yes, Yulia, if you’re going to be afraid of everything, you just won’t go anywhere”. It’s interesting how she was seriously worried while it didn’t even enter my head.

Anton: We went upstairs, looked around, and I was about to leave, but Julia said: “Let’s have a look at one more, with half an eye”. It was there where we found a place with photo wallpapers, plastered with several layers of different life. Cultural layers indeed. You feel like an archeologist. Julia came up with the idea at once how to shoot this “greeting from childhood” with an iPhone.

Anton: There’s a woman coming out of the house next door:

– What are you taking pictures of?
– We’re just having a walk. This girl is from Germany.
– From Germany, is she?! Let me show you my front yard! See, I’m growing some flowers here…They don’t look much now, of course…

And she’s embarrassed she can’t show us her garden at its best – the season is over.

Anton: Ksenia suggested: “You know what? I can give her some seeds… It’s a perennial plant, she could just throw them around, and it will grow!” And she starts giving her the seeds – a handful, then another one, then the third one – in a plastic cup, in a bag. And Julia is standing there with her hands full of seeds. Before I could wink, Julia was holding and chewing a pancake stuffed with meat.

We met an open, very positive person who was fascinated with what she was doing – her orchard, her garden, decorating her space: “You haven’t seen my window yet. Let me show you. You can’t see all of the beauty from this side, but I decorated it with some greenery. Let’s get inside, I’ll show it to you”.

Anton: “Let’s do one thing. she’ll go to Germany, and I’ll give her some flowers… in bough pots? She’ll keep them at home, it will be pretty! They probably don’t have such flowers …” And there she is, with the two flower pots: “Come on, take them! They will bring you joy! And remind you of Russia”.

“It’s great here, it’s fun, and, in fact, complete national cohesion. We go to the park, feed the squirrels. In summer we go down to the river, go for a swim… It’s a pleasant little neighborhood, almost like out of town. We have our own place, no city rush. It’s wonderful here”.

Anton: When we set off for the Zaton we had this task with layers. We were supposed to remove the upper layer and have a look at what’s there, underneath. So it turns out the gloomy landscape is the upper layer, while deep down are the seeds and these pots of flowers.

Julia: The greatest contrast in Zaton is a human one: some send you away, while others make you feel welcome, invite you to come in, feed you and give you flowers.