Personal Project: Grandparents

 

yuliya ryvkina photography, chicago photographer, black and white photography, documentary


I started this project in April of 2016, and the idea for it was initially shaped by the adventures of my relatively shitty dating life. After countless “swipes left” and a number of underwhelming dates, I figured it would be interesting to spend time with a couple that has put some miles on their relationship. 

The concept for the project was simple – photograph the day-to-day life of my grandparents. I’d spend anywhere between 30 minutes to 4 hours at my grandparent’s place at any given time, with my camera ready to go. At first, it was a little awkward being there just as a photographer and not as their granddaughter. My grandma and I made an agreement that I’d be there simply to observe –  though given the nature of my grandfather’s condition, it was often difficult to just watch my grandma do everything on her own and not offer a helping hand.

All my childhood memories have my grandparents in them; they practically raised me. In all the times spent together and all the hardships my family went through, they never once showed any signs of weakness – and that’s what I’ve always known. Seeing them through my lens – vulnerable, fragile – wasn’t an easy task, to say the least.  

 

yuliya ryvkina photography, chicago photographer, black and white photography, documentary

Four years ago, my grandfather suffered a severe stroke and we were told he had a very small chance of survival. He lost his speech, his memory and his whole right side of the body was paralyzed. From the intensive care unit to the nursing home, my grandmother never left his side. She helped in teaching him how to read, write, do basic math – from scratch. After a year of him being in a nursing home – he started to suffer from severe depression and it was then that my grandmother decided to take it upon herself to take care of him full-time at home.

She developed a whole routine and now just goes through the motions. The mornings are the most difficult – and they’re all about him. Get him up, clean him up, get him dressed, change the sheets, wash the sheets (by hand), clean the room, cook breakfast and the list goes on and on.

Each day provides its own set of challenges because of her own health complications, but she lives her life for him now.

 

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yuliya ryvkina photography, chicago photographer, black and white photography, documentary

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What I find a little funny is that my grandmother never wanted to be married, she never really wanted kids, but back in the day (in the former Soviet Union), if you didn’t have a family – you didn’t have anything.

They met at a mutual friend’s birthday when she was 25 and he, going on 27. They dated for some months and got married. It was the norm for a woman to take care of her man and keep him on a pedestal, but my grandma was a little too strong-willed and career oriented for that. She’d cook, she’d clean – but in no way was her husband a number one priority. Once over dinner he told me that she was an amazing mother, a wonderful friend, that she has a heart of gold and would give the shirt off her back to someone more in-need, but she wasn’t a good wife.

Now, I can’t feel too terrible for my grandfather as he’s the most stubborn, emotionless robot to have ever lived – I’m sure she felt her fair share of disappointment as well, from time to time.

Divorce was never an option for them – they just had to “figure it out.” What I admire most is the beautiful friendship that they have built over the years.

yuliya ryvkina photography, chicago photographer, black and white photography, documentary

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She’s become very over-protective. Everything he does must be under her control. Though he relies on her for a lot of things, he still craves his independence and often gets frustrated with her. The biggest cause of all their arguments at this point is that she won’t let him get out of the wheelchair without her help and he often tries when she’s not looking. 

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yuliya ryvkina photography, chicago photographer, black and white photography, documentary

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yuliya ryvkina photography, chicago photographer, black and white photography, documentary

yuliya ryvkina photography, chicago photographer, black and white photography, documentary

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yuliya-ryvkina-photography-documentary-portrait-chicago-photographer-black-and-white-photography

yuliya ryvkina photography, chicago photographer, black and white photography, documentary

 

yuliya ryvkina photography, chicago photographer, black and white photography, documentary

yuliya ryvkina photography, chicago photographer, black and white photography, documentary

yuliya ryvkina photography, chicago photographer, black and white photography, documentary

yuliya ryvkina photography, chicago photographer, black and white photography, documentary

yuliya-ryvkina-photography-documentary-portrait-black-and-white

yuliya ryvkina photography, chicago photographer, black and white photography, documentary

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yuliya ryvkina photography, chicago photographer, black and white photography, documentary

yuliya ryvkina photography, chicago photographer, black and white photography, documentary

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When an artist creates a body of work, I think it’s important to have some sort of take-away, a learned lesson, to complement the finished piece.

And this was mine…

Some of us have an idea of what we want, what we offer and what we deserve when looking for a partner. Though I stand today knowing the answers to those questions, I didn’t when I started this project. Perhaps that explains the ‘terrible’ dates.

I feel like the millennial generation is used to having choices and a feeling of entitlement that as a result, they/we/I put unrealistic parameters when it comes to relationships, as well. A lot of it, and this of course is solely my personal opinion, has to do with the amount of options we actually have.

From our very first crush and into adulthood, we are told the eight magical words that are supposed to wipe away all our post-breakup blues: “there are plenty of fish in the sea.” And so, we move on to the next shiny thing, often without evaluating what had happened, or what role each person played in the relationship. Online dating specifically makes it extremely easy to switch partners like socks and keep us on our search for the next best thing. Dating shouldn’t be a sport.

I’m not saying that every relationship deserves an equal amount of effort. Some people are simply assholes and it’s great when we get to learn that fabulous trait early on. What I am saying though, is that it’s important to take a look within – because without knowing who we are, it’s hard to figure out what we need and want from someone else.

I know it hurts my grandparents, my grandmother especially, that marriage and kids aren’t a number one priority to me, but I’m starting to understand where they’re coming from. Being around them over the course of this project and looking at them objectively, I’ve developed a different perspective on relationships and what it means to be a good partner. Though I know their history and sometimes cannot understand how or why they stayed together, I know that they wouldn’t be where they are today if they had given up when times were bad, when their less than favorable traits dominated over the good ones or simply, when the relationship started to require commitment and work.

Something that was just supposed to be a beautiful memory of my grandparents, turned into a very important life lesson for me…and I’m glad it did.