Russian photographer Danila Tkachenko‘s series Escape inspired the name of our #EscapeWeek, a special series of photo essays dedicated to groups of people who, in one way or another, for one reason or another, have retired from urban society.
Unlike every other project featured in our #EscapeWeek, Danila’s work focuses on men who have chosen to live in complete solitude, amidst the woods of Russia and Ukraine. Read our interview with Danila to find out more about his project. You can find links to all the other stories in our #EscapeWeek at the bottom of this article.
Hello Danila, thank you for this interview. When and how did you take an interest in photography?
I studied in the Rodchenko Moscow School of Photography and Multimedia. I got interested in photography by accident, and I realized that it can be used in many unexpected ways. Photographing is a good reason to go to interesting places, communicate with people and solve personal issues.
The men in the Escape photographs have completely distanced themselves from social life and retired into the woods to live like hermits. Where and how did you find them? How did you convince them to get photographed by you?
Research was a great part of the work. I spent very much time searching the Internet before I started shooting – this preliminary stage took about a year. I tried to cling on any minor piece of information about these people. I phoned local mass media and authorities, and nevertheless many trips I took were in vain.
What was your impression of these men? Are they lunatics or did they just make a legitimate, well thought out decision?
They are all different – some of them are like lunatics, some had a personal trauma. But to be honest, I felt good with them: when a person is cut off from society for a long time, he becomes like a child in his way of communicating.
Can you share some of their stories with us? What pushed them into the woods? What are they escaping from?
They escaped society, as they felt uncomfortable there and didn’t see themselves as part of it anymore. For example, there was a scientist who was growing new varieties of ginseng; his research institute was closed and nobody needed his work anymore. He went away to continue his favorite practices, without nobody disturbing him, and for 15 years he’s been living alone in the forest, growing new types of plants.
Please describe in brief how these men support themselves, and what they do with their time.
In most cases, they’ve been living like this for 10-20 years, and in this time they have managed to perfectly adapt themselves. They have daily routines, practice religion, search and grow food.
From what you can tell, are they happy now? Do they ever have second thoughts?
I think all of them are happy and unhappy in their own way. Of course, they also have doubts, just like all of us, that maybe it’s not the way that they should live, but none of them wants to return. It’s their own choice.
What inspired you to make Escape? Have you ever seriously considered, if not living like a hermit altogether, at least drifting away from society? And after meeting the subjects of Escape, would you find their example encouraging or discouraging?
Once I spent a month in the wilderness myself, and this experience allowed me to understand how much a person is influenced by the surrounding society and information. So I got interested in meeting and comparing myself to people who have been cut off from society for a long time – it was important for me go through this experience in order to appraise my own level of freedom within the society.
One of the most striking aspects of your photographs is how these men seem to be blended in with the nature around them. Did they already have experiences of living in the wild or did they learn everything from scratch?
Probably they also had to learn from their own mistakes, but of course they tried to prepare a little before leaving. It was more difficult for those who were coming from cities, while those who formerly lived in villages understood the nature much better.
Dumb question – you seem to have found no women in the woods: would you say hermitage is more of a ‘guy thing’?
Well I had found information about one woman, but by the time I visited the place she was supposed to be, she had already died.
What camera(s) did you use to shoot Escape?
Choose your #threewordsforphotography.
Trip. Collision. Creation.
Tell us more about this photograph.
This is a personal God which was cut out of wood by one of the hermits for worshipping and conversations.
Now you choose a photograph from Escape and share with us something we can’t see in the picture.
The man in this photo is blind, but he got so used to the place that he can perfectly orientate himself without seeing anything.
Explore all the other stories in our #EscapeWeek:
- Modernity? No, thank you: we are Mennonites
- Valley of Angels
- Looking for a different life on the mountains of Europe
- Not all that shines is gold in the countryside
- Living nomadically to abide by ancient Native American principles
- Environmentally Conscious, Politically Active, Frequently Naked – Meet Europe’s Rewilders