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Quiet Ward

[text] [photographs]

A project I have been working on since 2005 and have now decided to take a break, [upd. 04.2023 — already continued] (wasted 5 wide films). “The Quiet Ward” was exhibited in Rabochy i Kolkhoznitsa and at Vinzavod. Book was published with a print run of 30 copies. I did my diploma in photography with “The Quiet Ward” the at the Rodchenko School. Exhibition photographs are stored at the MaMM (Multimedia Art Museum).

“The Quiet Ward” is one of the main works, if not the main work, in my photographic biography.

Please note, you have to click “text” to read the text to the photo story, and you can see the photo story itself by clicking “photos”.

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Here are 4 texts in one way or another related to the photo-history “The Quiet Ward”. My introduction, a text from Anna Novitskaya, and two reviews, one from Alexey Shulgin and one from Katya Lazareva.

The author's opinion mostly coincides with that of the author of the photo story and the other three participants in our textual disco.

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By the author


I hope, that you are a thankful spectator and will not throw the book that you are holding right now in your hands from the roof of your house, trying to hit an open manhole. I am not an elected deputy and do not deserve this sort of honour. The book can be used as sofa support. You can tear some pages out and stick them on your forehead. The book can be frozen for five thousand years like Fry from Futurama. Or it can be buried in the ground. If you put it between the books of Burroughs and Bukowski, it will kill me as well.

It is self-published book right now. But who knows, maybe in a year the professional pub- lisher will appear. He will call me and say something. I will be happy and will think, there you go again, I will be 100 persons more famous and 100 dollars richer. And next morn- ing the society will wake me up and whisper that it is back and will never ever leave me.


I’m not going to say much. I’m not planning to go around labelling things, either. What this photo story is about – I do not know myself. And it’s for better. If I knew – I would surely say. The title “Quiet ward” was suggested by Igor Mukhin. The picture must speak for itself. The photography must be black and white. And the book must be named “Qui- et ward”. There is a little of everything in it. Actually, I would be quite happy if the whole thing would be left unedited, dishevelled, in no particular order and unnamed. But – al- beit unwillingly – I have to move ahead.

The story started from the last photograph that I made in my life. In this book, it is the one before the last. I took it with my eyes closed. People in the picture are the clinical psychiatrists during the primary inspection of a patient, that is me. And the name of this photograph, for some reason, is “The cemetery of dead Jedi”. At that moment, during the inspection, standing there blinking, I thought that my life is over and that this black and white picture would be the last thing I ever took in my life.

Instead of saying how good or bad everything is (every five minutes there is a bomb exploding somewhere): “the grandpa-Lenin-who-sleeps-and-lives-in-our-hearts” has just come and complained about the insulted worms in his womb. He hissed something about the sales of Haloperidol that rose thank to me; the hospital food is not possible to eat at all, because it became tastier; the white doctors’ smocks became even whiter; the queues – more acute; and whatever we call “common” does not stink that much any- more; the wars will be smaller, everything will be even funnier, because everyone wants to be a goody; in a thousand years I will be honoured with a letter of gratitude for the fact that I’m presently alive; the pension just got raised for extra 2 and half kopecks, causing the death of some granny one minute later then it should’ve actually happen; the com- puters are generally accepted as idiots that ought to be simply used; sad and penitent Vanya Sirotkin mops the floors as a punishment for having high-humidity dreams about Putin; and I’ve just received a social package worth a price of a stick of a popular Doctor’s sausage and also a doozy of a black eye for I everything I did.

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Head of the first general psychiatric department of the S.S. Korsakov Clinic,
Anna K. Novitskaya. Without Origin. Without End

It happened to Vanya that he got sick. And it also happened that he ended up in our “first department number one”. It was the time, when he got acquainted with psychiatrists. It so happened that the first Vanya’s doctor turned out to be very humane. It seems to me they respected each other. It was important at that time to everyone to accept the existence of the disease and to agree on the rules of the future game. Naturally, Vanya misbehaved from time to time: he could get drunk or ditch on his medicine. Even when the person is ill, there is still a lot of space, time and opportunities in his life to remain himself. So, Van- ya started to live with his illness and, as it happened, with his talent.

One day Vanya showed me his pictures of one of the Moscow railway stations. There you could see the things that we normally go by without paying attention, without noticing that they are actually amusing or sad or in some other way interesting. Our Vanya could see it and he passed it on to us in his black and white photographs.

That is when we came up with the idea of Vanya shooting in our Quiet Department. We agreed not to take pictures of those who does not want to be photographed and, espe- cially, of the ones who does not feel well on that day. This young man manages some- how to make pictures that live their own life. Looking at them, I sometimes see patients’ faces and sometimes our familiar surroundings. I know these people; know their prob- lems, their personality and some things about their lives outside of the clinic. The most important thing is that, besides illness, they all have strength for jokes, friendship, for understanding the problems of those around.

Vanya takes pictures in different states of his complex mind. I like his “spoons-plates”, parts of walls and windows, but there is some kind of “a dark touch” to his work. It un- nerves me at times. Vanya became an inseparable part of our rounds of the ward. We always discover something new about ourselves as a whole, when we see a fresh series of his photographs. Sometimes he is just hanging around the department and takes the pictures of everything. This is how attendants with trays, nurses with droppers, doctors’ hands, fishes, doors and a man hugging the good tree appear.

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Review by A. Shulgin, artist and teacher

“The Quiet Ward” by Ivan Orlov is the result of work that has been going on for many (about 10) years. It is a rather unusual photo project. Usually, a photo project is a view from the outside. The view of an alien, a “guest” who has visited an interesting place, taken “the cream of the crop” and moved on in search of new and exciting subjects. Frankly, it is this widespread approach that is annoying in documentary photography. In search of recognition and fame, many ambitious photographers look for something else to shoot, some hidden corner to get into in order to present their great shots to delighted public. Sometimes, shooting extreme situations, war, violent scenes, etc., the photographer faces a moral dilemma - to either interfere with the events or to make a great shot. And he often opts for the latter.

Ivan's project was shot in one of those “closed” zones, in a psychiatric hospital. However, Ivan did not go there in search of interesting subjects, but as a patient. One may recall that Diane Arbus stripped herself when she filmed the nudity. So Ivan, too, finds himself in the same status and in the same space as the patients of the hospital, his models.

And he began filming there - not from the outside, but from the inside. He started filming to occupy himself with something, and also as art therapy. And I have to say, it was interesting. It was convincing. It turned out to be what is called “true”.

Precisely because it was filmed from the inside. And also because it's shot on black and white film, with its vintage aesthetic applied to a timeless hospital interior.

In the images we see patients in their hospital environment, doctors, other hospital staff, interior details, and everyday scenes. The images are taken without distance, without “artistry”, sometimes out of focus, sometimes with blur.

The film depicts a strange place, removed from the reality that is familiar to us, where time has stood still. The people depicted in the photographs are mostly doing nothing: sitting, watching, smoking. This adds to the effect of stopped time. Indeed — an ”asylum” is a place that welcomes people who are considered sick, people with a ”clouded mind”, for whom ”normal life” has taken a pause. Ivan's photos perfectly capture the repressive nature of the psychiatric treatment system, in which people find themselves turned off from life — ”sick anyway!” Most importantly - again - we believe the author and empathise with the patients.

The author's colour drawings embedded in the body of the book (also made in the hospital) contrast sharply with the black and white photographs and are perceived as some sprouts of life, if you like - flowers, breaking through the grey cotton veil of stopped time, as an unconscious protest.

I think this project by Ivan Orlov is unique not only in the context of Rodchenko School students' practice, but also for documentary photography in general, and definitely deserves a diploma.

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Review by Ekaterina Lazareva, artist and PhD in Art History

Ivan Orlov's graduation project consists of a series of black and white documentary photographs, complemented by one colour photograph, as well as drawings by the author. The form of presentation of the project in its entirety is a book; the photographic part of the project is also on display. The title of the series, The Quiet Ward, refers directly to the place where the photographs and drawings were taken, a section of the psychoneurological dispensary that is referred to by doctors and patients as the Silent Ward. The isolated patients of the Quiet Ward are metaphorically likened to aquarium fish, depicted in the colour photographs, physically unable to exist in a different environment. At the same time, the title also contains a diagnosis (not for the author, but for the artist and the individual in general): the quiet detachment from society, the acquisition of a detached position and a detached view is one of the conditions not only for artistic individuation, but in general for any kind of individual formation.

The specific nature of the place of action depicted by Ivan Orlov immediately conjures up allusions to Foucault's famous writings on disciplinary spaces such as the clinic or the prison, with their special organisation of modes of observation through a ”network of gazes controlling one another”. At the same time, it recalls the typically Soviet phenomenon of communality where, in the words of B. Groys, ”the intimacy of seclusion is subjected to terror and given over to the gaze of the Other”. It is also interesting when the author shifts from observation of patients to observation of observers — doctors, nurses who are no longer agents of disciplinary power, but appear mediated by the mechanical eye of the camera to the gaze of the author, their patient. One compelling example is the penultimate photograph in the book of doctors on examination, where the focus of attention is suddenly shifted to themselves. One may recall here C. Marx's thesis that 'educators themselves must be educated', questioning the right of someone to speak on behalf of the Truth.

If one considers examples from the history of documentary photography with which Ivan Orlov's project can be compared, such as Ellen Mark's series Mental Hospital (made in 1975, the same year as One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest), one will notice a much thinner, almost imperceptible boundary separating the ”norm” and the ”pathology” in Orlov's work. The almost normal, mundane, everyday situation that accompanies his characters, their organic behavior in the presence of the camera immerses the viewer in the same deepened, meditative state. By showing ordinary life instead of extreme and exceptional situations in the disciplinary space of the clinic, Orlov's project suggests a reflection on the mechanisms of surveillance, regulation and power outside this ”quiet ward”.

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