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‘There is No One to Visit Anymore’

An Uzbekistani photographer revisits a beloved town, abandoned by a tide of emigration. First in a series.

by Dengiz Uralov 7 August 2014

Earlier this year, TOL and its sister site, NewEurasia, sought out the most promising young visual artists in Central Asia in a competition called Exit Permit.


Relisa Granovskaya, a 32-year-old native of Tashkent, took the top photography prize of 200 euros for her photograph of an abandoned house in Yangiabad, a former mining town about 120 kilometers (75 miles) from Tashkent.


In this first of a series of interviews with the winners, she talks about how she came to photography and the painful role migration has played in her life.



On the photo:


I took this picture a few years ago in the mining town of Yangiabad. It’s a town people fall in love with at first sight. It’s in the German style: there are no buildings taller than three stories. A small, stylish, cozy town. The town was founded in the early ‘50s, when uranium was found nearby and they began to mine it. Then the ore was exhausted and the mine was closed, but people continued to live there.


My friends and I vacationed there every summer, probably about five years in a row. Once we got there, we fell in love and began to come every year. We bought an apartment there, for about $100. Its owner sold it to us and left.


Relisa Granovskaya snapped this photo on a return to a place where she had spent several happy summers.


Earlier there were far more locals in the town than there are now. And every summer I watched as they left, as houses collapsed, simply because they are not taken care of. People from Yangiabad move to Tashkent, Russia, Germany.


So two years ago I decided to go and see what the town had turned into, to make a story about it. It happened that the whole story fits into one picture. I was with a companion, and I took a photo of the house where we had an apartment. We walked around and looked, and then I saw a shadow. I took the shot spontaneously, intuitively. I remember well seeing a shadow, and my heart ached, from the fact that a lot has disappeared and will never come back.


Many would like to stay. A family with two children lived in that house. They said, “We love our city,” and they tried hard to survive. The house was intended for demolition. They said, “We’ll leave when the house collapses completely.” And when I arrived, I didn’t see them.


Our apartment was on the top floor. The roof had collapsed, and the last time we were in it, it was already dangerous. And we just abandoned the flat. No one can sell it – there’s no water, there’s no gas. This house was on the highest street, with beautiful mountain views from the windows. Now no one lives there; it’s meant for demolition and full of trash. The door is boarded up.


On her art:


I came to photography because of my dad. He was an amateur photographer, he shot a lot on different cameras, and then we printed photos together. I remember well how we locked ourselves in the kitchen, hung red rags, took equipment, printed, and experimented. Then he gave me a camera, first a film one, and then I had a digital camera, and I began to take more and more.


Several years ago I made ​​a choice. I worked in an office from 9 to 6, and I filmed on the weekend. I realized that I needed to choose. I wasn’t giving as much time to photography as I would like. So I decided to stop everything else and deal only with photos. I took a step into the unknown. And gradually, I started turning my hobby into a permanent job. I’ve been working only in photography for more than four years.


Many photographers of ours leave. They reach a certain level; Tashkent becomes too small for them and they move on. In the last couple of years there are a lot of young photographers who seek to achieve something. And what pleases me is that many people realize that you need to learn. My favorite Uzbek photographers are Vladimir Zhirnov, Ernest Kurtveliev, Viktor Antonov, and Viktor Vyatkin.



On migration:


I don’t want to leave Tashkent forever. At least for now. I’ve traveled around the world enough; I’ve seen how people live in other countries. Tashkent is very close to me. I’ve never met such flavors as in Tashkent. And I hear it from many people. A loved one of mine lives in Europe and suffers from the fact that there is no smell there like in Tashkent.


It’s possible that I could leave, but not now. Periodically, I go somewhere, come back, and realize that Tashkent is my home. I’m not talking about all of Uzbekistan, only Tashkent. It’s special. It’s different from the rest of the country.


Almost all my close friends have left. At some point, I felt alone: they went abroad one year and were surprised that I didn’t want to leave. I love Tashkent. I am a patriot of Tashkent. I love it for the people, streets, sunsets, sunrises, and hot days. For our nature, for everything. I guess I’m not ready to leave yet.



Yangiabad, a poem by Anna Bokk 


There was a fairytale town on earth

The town does not exist anymore …

Love reigned in that town

There is no love anymore

People visited each other

There is no one to visit anymore

They did the housekeeping and went fishing together

There is no one left to go fishing

A musical fountain near the Palace

Drew an audience for a disco

There is no fountain, not even the Palace

All dances came to an end

There are no more fishponds where we used to sunbathe

No childish laugh … there are only old men

To live till the death in the dead town

With a vain hope to believe in and wait for the better

This town is not a fairytale anymore

This town is a sad past

Too bad for those who do not have anywhere to go, who are left there,

And now a fairytale is only memories of those who lived there once.

Dengiz Uralov is a pseudonym for a journalist in Tashkent.

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