HA 020: Like Last Year's Snow

Elderly Women of the Nomadic Nenets

Words and Images by Oded Wagenstein | Website | Instagram

Like Last Year's Snow - a Yiddish expression, referring to something which is not relevant anymore.

In this series, memories of the past, represented by the images of the outside world, are combined with portraits of current reality. By doing so, I tried to give the subjects’ stories a visual representation — one that could last after they are gone.

In the remote village of Yar-Sale in Northern Siberia live a group of elderly women. They were once part of a nomadic community of reindeer herders from the Nenets ethnic group. But now, in their old age, they spend most of their days in seclusion, away from nature and their community. While men are usually encouraged to remain within the migrating community and maintain their social roles, the women often face the struggles of old age alone.

Pudani Audi (born 1948). Pudani was born on the tundra and roamed since birth. In this portrait, she is wearing a fur hat, the sole object she was left with from her wandering days. Yar-Sale, Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Russia.

It took a flight, a 60-hour train ride from Moscow, and a seven-hour bone-breaking drive along a frozen river for me to meet them.

I immersed myself in their closed community, and for days, over many cups of tea, they shared their stories, lullabies, and longings with me.

Longing for nature, gone parents and friends.

Angelina Serotetto (born 1942). Angelina was part of a family of shaman women, and her mother taught her to read the future using sacred objects from nature. Yar-Sale, Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Russia.
A convoy of reindeer, belonging to the Serotetto (white reindeer) family, during their migration over the frozen river of Ob. The Nenets migrate along with their herds (sometimes made up of thousands of reindeer) in search of pastures. Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Russia.
Necla Audi (born 1928). Although Necla was 89 when this portrait was taken, she declared that she insists on returning to live with the migrating community. At the far left of her bed, a picture of her two sons, taken when they were young. Now, both of them are herders in the tundra. Yar-Sale, Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Russia.
Nyadma Serotetto (3), part of the nomadic Nenets community, standing on his family’s wooden sleigh during their migration over the frozen river of Ob. Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Russia.
Autipana Audi (born 1941). Autipana experienced many losses. She lost her husband, son, and daughter to diseases, and a few years ago, her entire reindeer herd perished due to starvation during a cold wave. Almost unable to walk, she spends her days mostly limited to her bed. Yar-Sale, Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Russia.
Zinaida Evay (born1946) and her cat Persik (“peach” in Russian). Zinaida was married for many years. But today, after her husband passed away, she is living in their small apartment alone, with almost no one to come and visit. Yar-Sale, Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Russia.
An improvised cross, which marks the border between the village and the tundra. For tundra people, this cross marks the border between their world and the world of the “others” (non-tundra people) as they refer to them. Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Russia.
Liliya Yamkina (born 1944). As a teenager, she was the only one in her clan who knew how to read. She said she still remembers how important she felt when she read everyone their letters and formal documents. However, the importance of her reading skills to the clan was also the reason that her father prevents her from going to college to become a teacher, which caused significant conflict between them. Now in her apartment, she writes love songs about the tundra, and her dream is to publish them in a magazine. Yar-Sale, Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Russia.

This series is part of a long-term seven-year project, during which the photographer met and photographed dozens of elders in different communities worldwide from Thailand to Cuba and from Israel to Russia while trying to create a visual interpretation of the universal sense of ageing and the longing to belong.