The connection

Shortlist 2018

Sergei Stroitelev

I am a freelance documentary photographer based in Saint-Petersburg, Russia, who works on a regular basis with National Geographic Russia, Vice UK/USA etc. and with RIA novosti and Kommersant Photos as a stringer. Before photography I was a human rights lawyer for 3 years. During that time I dreamt of being in the field instead of doing paperwork, and documentary photography became the best means of accomplishing this for me. In 2013-2014 I spent 10 months in Asia cooperating with different non-governmental structures and organizations like Red Cross Nepal and Nepal Leprosy Trust covering human rights issues in the country - children with HIV, discrimination of lepers, drug addiction. In May 2015 I came back to the country to document the aftermath of an earthquake which claimed more than 10 thousand lives. At the moment my interests lie in the areas of human rights violations such as gender/racial prejudice, discrimination of HIV-positive people, immigration, the aftermath of conflicts and natural disasters, all of which I explore using different visual languages. I prefer to work in regions vulnerable to human rights abuses, including my home country and countries of Southeast Asia like Nepal, India and Bangladesh. I am convinced that a well-executed documentary project is the best instrument for raising awareness about certain social issues and that that is what is needed in those particular places. 
The Compromise
2018

The connection

The series is a long-term photo story, for which I followed a small but very special family over 4 months. A young woman, Nadya (32), was a volunteer at a psychoneurological dispensary near Saint-Petersburg 5 years ago. During this time she formed a strong bond with a boy called Fedya (16) who suffered from several neurological diseases, including autism and a mild form of cerebral palsy. As Nadya recalls, she saw cleverness and kindness in his eyes. Some time later she realized that she wanted to adopt the boy. After a year of getting the runaround Nadya overcame bureaucratic hurdles, and now the two of them live together in a small single-bedroom apartment.

Because Fedya cannot be left alone even for a minute, Nadya's life is completely dedicated to him. She feeds the boy, dresses him, brushes his hair, walk with him and reads to him, trying her best to make him as happy as possible. Sometimes the boy lashes out. Nadya explains this behavior by his previous hard life at the dispensary and by the incompetence of the working staff who used to beat the children. Fedya calms down when he feels affection and contact, and even when he connects strings, creating a link, something that is peculiar to every family that the boy was deprived of in the dispensary. This story is not only about compassion but also about obligations taken for life. In the course of my work I kept asking myself whether I could do what Nadya did. I still do not know, but I definitely admire Nadya and Fedya's family. Here it must be mentioned that this family is a very rare case for Russia. It is almost impossible to find someone with a child adopted from a dispensary. Even if somebody should consider the possibility, there is a terrible amount of red tape to get through.