There comes a time in every young adult's life when you realize it's time to stop waking up with a couple of hours of daylight left, quit that part-time web-based graphic design gig you'd desperately hoped would work out, and start engaging with real life rather than soldiering on in your little, self-entitled bubble. This usually happens somewhere between one year afer you graduate college and your weirdo school friend's unexpected wedding and/or pregnancy. What follows is normally a substance-fuelled crisis phase where you try to rationalize and plan absolutely everything that's going to happen in your life over the next 60 years.
There are, of course, more creative ways of dealing with this. I, for one, developed a pants collection that today boasts 64 separate items. My new Russian photographer friend, Jana Romanova, on the other hand, started creeping into pregnant peoples' bedrooms while they were asleep to take their pictures for a series called Waiting. Whatever floats your boat, I guess. The best thing about her project, though, is that because the outcome is so engaging and identifiable, no one can call her a weirdo for spying on people in their sleep. I called Jana up for a chat.
VICE: You were about 25 when you began working on this project—that’s kinda young to be thinking about babies, no? Was your clock ticking already?
Jana Romanova: No, it was the exact opposite. It was around then that I started noticing a lot of my friends getting pregnant, and suddenly everything changed. All the fun and the drinking and the hitchhiking stopped and, for me, it was a really difficult moment because I felt like I was alone.
Aww. Was the project kind of your way of getting yourself involved?
Sort of. I kept trying to think of ways to deal with it—ways to get used to it. I slept over at my pregnant friend's flat one night and, when I woke up, I noticed that the couple were sleeping on the floor. There was a ladder in the flat, so I climbed up and took a picture of them. That picture said something to me about their relationship; the way they were sleeping made them seem very much like a team and extremely disconnected at the same time.
I read on your blog that the project consists of 40 images to represent the 40 weeks of pregnancy?
Yes, and I photographed 40 couples. There's no real deep thought behind that idea, I just needed a limit and thought that the 40 weeks of pregnancy concept was fitting. Also, the images in the book are placed in such a way that it hopefully takes the reader on the whole pregnancy journey. For example, the couple in the first photograph sleep away from each other and, as the images go on, the couples get closer and closer together. But that was purely a matter of how I arranged the images, not the reality. Did you try to find women who were at different stages of pregnancy to photograph, too?
I did, but it was very difficult. In Russia, there's this superstition where a lot people won't share the news that they're pregnant until the third month for fear of losing the baby. So most people didn't want to be photographed at that stage. Again, I could manipulate the order of the photos to imply that people were in the early stages of pregnancy. The first image is of this very big guy and this very small girl. She hardly looks pregnant at all, but, in reality, she’s three months in.
Good genes, I guess. Could you talk me through your process? How long did you spend working on this and how much time did you spend with each couple?
The whole project took three years to complete. I must have emailed about 300 people in order to convince those 40 couples to be photographed. And I needed to spend the night with them, so that made it even harder to be given access. As soon as I had a couple locked down, I’d go to their place and set up my ladder next to their bed with my camera on top. Then I’d go to sleep in another room, set my alarm for 6 AM and very silently climb the ladder and start taking pictures as the couples were sleeping. That would take about two hours. Two hours? Surely, they must have woken up while you were at it?
Sometimes, yeah. Especially towards the end. That's why most of the pictures I ended up using are from when I first started shooting.
You said your view point was accidental, but it looks quite calculated to me—the viewer becomes a part of the room.
I think everyone gets that at times; that desire to be part of a room but not visible—just an observer. I suppose that’s why people like reality TV. I guess. Why are they all sleeping on single beds and sofas?
A lot of people ask me that. They ask, “Why are they sleeping on the sofa, are they poor?” But it’s got more to do with spatial economy, not financial. I sleep on a sofa, too. Also, these couples are young and a lot of them had just moved in together—they were used to sleeping alone.
Is there one particular photograph you like the best?
There’s one couple that I’m very attached to, but it’s a sad story. That photograph of the big, hairy guy with his hand on his wife’s tummy—the guy died last year in a car crash in Thailand and now his wife is alone. The couple were my close friends, so looking at that picture makes me emotional. Also, the day I found out about his passing, that specific picture was chosen as the poster for this festival I was taking part in. I saw it and wanted to die. But at least I have this picture as a memory of him. I’m sorry. Are you planning on continuing the project in any way?
I’m thinking I’ll take their family portrait again in ten years. Russian contemporary society is changing every second—it’s all so new to us—so, in a way, Waiting is about that, too. The children being born now will have only read about the Soviet Union in history books—their parents were born just as it was falling. I think it'll be interesting to see what they've morphed into in ten years. I’ll stay tuned. Thanks, Jana.
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