CNN Photos

Russia’s ‘city of brides’

So many women have come to work in Ivanovo, Russia, that it has been dubbed the “city of brides.” For a year, student photographer Alena Zhandarova used social media to find women living in her hometown, the country’s once-textile capital.

“I wanted to show natural beauty,” said Zhandarova, 23, who takes portraits of the women. Without a plan mapped out, she entered their homes.

Spending a few hours with each girl allowed them to get comfortable with each other before she set up her camera. Using props from their homes, she “creates a new person.”

“It was interesting to create something I didn’t see before, to just follow the creation,” she said.

Zhandarova discovered her love for picture making after earning a degree in economics. She’s now pursuing a master’s degree in fine-art photography.

For her first portrait project, she turned the camera on herself. She tried to communicate her inner world to the rest of the world, she said.

Her second project brought her into the lives of others. “Here it was a step outside,” the soft-spoken photographer explained. “It was about communicating with other people.”

Focusing on younger women, Zhandarova said she hoped to capture their innocence. The portraits reveal their uniqueness as well as the common threads that tie them together.

She intentionally left out captions because the project wasn’t about these specific girls, she said. In a way, it was about female empowerment.

“We can be whatever we want to be,” Zhandarova said. “No matter what somebody one day said about us.”

On Monday, Luceo Images announced Zhandarova as the winner of its 2012 Student Project Award for her “City of Brides” series. As this year’s recipient, she will receive $1,000 and mentorship from a member of Luceo.

- Elizabeth I. Johnson, CNN