CNN Photos

Revisiting a fleeting past through innocent eyes

The now-small village of Tiksi holds many cherished memories for photographer Evgenia Arbugaeva, who recently returned to her hometown in Russia.

She remembers back before the fall of the Soviet Union, when the seaport on Russia’s northern coast buzzed with scientists and explorers who were studying the Arctic Ocean. But without government funding, jobs disappeared, forcing many residents to move away.

As Arbugaeva walked among Tiksi’s abandoned buildings and empty streets, distant reminiscences from her childhood echoed in her mind.

During her trip, she met Tanya, a 13-year-old local whose lively imagination, way of thinking and even parents reminded Arbugaeva of herself as a child. She decided to document the town through Tanya’s eyes — her life, her memories, where she played — before her family moves away next year to give their daughter better educational opportunities.

“I wanted to have those photos for myself,” Arbugaeva said. “Tanya shared my vision and memories of this place.” When you’re young, she added, memories aren’t precise or even factual; they’re how you felt in that moment.

Tanya’s innocent and pure lifestyle led Arbugaeva’s self-funded project, and the resulting images surprised her.

“The photos started to look like sets from a movie,” she said. “They were too picturesque, pretty, naive. But this is how I feel about it.”

Arbugaeva said she wants children around the world to see something they have never experienced by looking at her photographs. She has already revisited Tiksi twice and plans on returning two more times next year, capturing each season of the town.

“At first what you see is a sad picture,” she said of the nearly vacant village. “But you go deeper and make it about childhood and fascination. Once you experience this environment, it’s hard to find something similar.”

- Elizabeth I. Johnson, CNN