"Svetlana"

Shortlist 2018

Mary Gelman

Mary Gelman is a VII Photo Agency Member photographer based in Saint-Petersburg, Russia. She explores the larger world through close personal narratives. Mary focuses on a study of issues of gender and body, boundary and identity, discrimination and the human relationship with the environment.
The Compromise
2018

"Svetlana"

Russians are prejudiced against those with mental disorders. They are not considered proper humans able to learn and socialize, they often remain unemployed. Yet there exists a different kind of place. "Svetlana" is a unique community in Leningrad region. This village provides people with various mental disorders an opportunity to live free and supported by tutors and volunteers. For the residents, though, those labels mean nothing. The place is not a boarding school or a clinic. No one is controlled and the doors are always open. Residents do not draw lines between "healthy" and "unhealthy," "normal" and "abnormal." Everyone is valued as an individual. One's ability is the only thing that matters. The residents believe in the person one can become despite one's past.

"Svetlana" has nearly 40 residents. Living in four large houses, they have a garden, a farm, a bakery, a carpentry and more. The residents subsist on farming and work together despite their differences. The villagers get five meals a day, visit sauna on weekends and stage plays on holidays. People with special needs are free to go out, work, have friends and fall in love. They can find fulfillment in any employment or creative activity. Some residents originally unable to hold a spoon now bake bread for all the inhabitants of the village or play in performances.