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Downtown Phoenix will be treated to a family gathering of sorts come this week as ASU alumna Nadia Sablin will be premiering her photographic collection “Aunties” at the Northlight Gallery in downtown Phoenix on Feb 11. 

The photographs focus on Sablin’s titular Aunts, Alevtina and Ludmila, and their lives in northwestern Russia. Through each picture, it’s easy to see that the two keep a traditional lifestyle — a farm is maintained on the home built by their father, while a fireplace burns with chopped wood.

There’s an allure to the images — all are vividly colorful, but each carries a calming element. The active aunts are set against vibrant scenery, with a forest backdrop in the outdoor photos and a warm environment in the indoor photos.

In an email interview, Sablin said that she first fell in love with photography when she was a 17-year-old community college student, though she didn’t call herself a photographer until she graduated from the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York with a bachelor's in fine arts.

She wrote that she spent more time in the dark room than anything else, recalling how addictive it was to gradually improve her photos.

Sablin started work on “Aunties” before beginning graduate school at ASU, where she majored in fine art with a concentration on photography. 

Sablin recalled the summer visits to see her aunts as bittersweet. She wrote that her visits to them when she was a child were “alien,” considering that they never had any children of their own. This made conversation difficult. 

“They didn’t know how to talk to me,” she wrote.

Today, however, Sablin writes that she is in love with everything about the sisters.

“The very anachronisms and quirks that offended my childish sensibilities are now what draw me to them,” she wrote.

But as the sisters grow older, Sablin wrote that it has become difficult to watch them “melt away, little by little.”

“The first year I was impressed to see Alevtina wield an axe to chop firewood and Ludmila scramble up a huge pile of discarded planks at the sawmill that replaced the collective cow farm," she wrote. "These days there is much less activity, and the television takes up more and more of their attention.”

Despite keeping the project private while attending ASU, Sablin said that she was confident in the upcoming show.

"I'm very grateful to Northlight Gallery for inviting me to showcase the project in Phoenix," she wrote."I'm positive they'll do a great job with the installation, and I'm excited to see the new gallery space."

A curator of the Northlight Galleries (both Phoenix and Tempe) for 16 years, Liz Allen said that “Aunties” was a part of the celebration of the Phoenix gallery’s move to a new locale adjacent to the Step Gallery located on Seventh and Grant streets last semester.

Part of this celebration involved featuring work from faculty, alumni and student members of the school’s photography program in the new space.

Staffed by junior, senior and graduate photography students, Allen said Northlight (Phoenix) gives them the chance to discuss every image in the exhibition, and discuss what the sequence is — how it tells a story or what interpretation could be created within the gallery space. That sequence is entirely up to the discretion of both herself and the staff. Sablin asked for no particular layout when she sent the pictures.

“We opened last semester with an alumni exhibition,” Allen said. “And I was looking to feature alumni in the gallery.”

Allen said that she had been in contact with Sablin, receiving updates before her book won the 2014 CDS/Honickman First Book Prize in Photography. She said she had seen Sablin’s work prior to her starting her MFA degree, and found it incredibly compelling.

“I had thought, once she got the book prize, that this is the perfect time to do a solo exhibition of this project,” Allen said.

She also said that the work was an intimate look into the lives of the two sisters, and that it was clear that Sablin had a close relationship with them. For her, there was a personal meaning to the images as well, as it made reference to her own closeness to her sister.

“We see the way they share chores,” Allen said, ”and the way they share space together and the way they interact with each other.”

Related Links:

'Science, Poetry and the Photographic Image' an intriguing artistic combination

ASU photography student captures evolving family relationships

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