“Silka”, which means exile in Russian, is a photographic exploration of Brighton Beach, NY; the most densely populated Russian-speaking community in the Western Hemisphere.

 

Though the collapse of the USSR in 1991 changed Russia significantly and stimulated rapid modernization, Brighton Beach savors the past and is a living museum of Soviet nostalgia. A life ensconced in traditions, values and the iconology of the old world beliefs; this close-knit insular world of Soviet émigrés lives a cloistered existence in the shadow of New York City.

 

Father Nikodim, sanctifying the chapel built by recovering addicts and current residents of House of Labor and Love. (Photo by Alexey Yurenev/GroundTruth)

Father Nikodim, sanctifying the chapel built by recovering addicts and current residents of House of Labor and Love. (Photo by Alexey Yurenev/GroundTruth)

 

Photographer’s note

In 2002, at the age of 16, I emigrated from Moscow to New York. Settling with my family in Westchester County, and already fluent in English, I quickly assimilated into the fabric of American life. Whatever homesickness I felt, I cured by visiting Brighton Beach. There, I stepped off the train into a historical period piece, а wax museum of Soviet nostalgia, full of WWII vets, grandmas in bright lipstick, and shady-looking men in tracksuits. Remnants of another epoch, these Russian-speaking Americans, had created a comfortable mold for future generations of post-Soviet émigrés to settle: a community that insulated itself with a language that had now adopted words like “fun,” “slice,” “train”, and “bye.”

 

For a young émigré from Moscow, everything was oddly familiar, yet slightly distorted, pickled in the memories of yesteryear.

 

Soup kitchen and prayer services on the boardwalk at Brighton Beach. (Photo by Alexey Yurenev/GroundTruth)

Soup kitchen and prayer services on the boardwalk at Brighton Beach. (Photo by Alexey Yurenev/GroundTruth)

 

In 2018, which marked half my life lived in the United States, I moved to Brighton Beach to explore the meaning of this post-Soviet enclave, with its lifestyle and traditions that Russian immigrants were once so eager to leave behind, as well as my own dual identity. I made it my purpose to define this neighborhood, which resembled neither the Russia I left, nor the America I was living in. Indeed Brighton Beach, although popularized by tourists as an extension of the Coney Island sideshow, is its own country.

 

Photo essay

Click on the image to open the slide show.

 

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