The connection

Shortlist 2018

Sergei Stroitelev

Sergei Stroitelev is an independent documentary photographer from Saint-Petersburg, Russia, who regularly works with National Geographic Russia, Vice UK/USA. He also works with RIA Novosti and Kommersant Photos as a stringer. Sergei worked as a human rights lawyer for three years before becoming a photographer. During that time, he dreamt of fieldwork instead of doing paperwork, and documentary photography happened to be the best tool for it. In 2013-2014, Sergei spent ten months in Asia cooperating with non-governmental structures and organizations such as Red Cross Nepal and Nepal Leprosy Trust. He focused on human rights issues in the country - children with HIV, discrimination of people suffering from leprosy, and drug addiction. At the moment, Stroitelev is interested in social issues such as gender/racial prejudice, discrimination of HIV-positive people, migration, the aftermath of conflicts and natural disasters, which he explores using various visual languages. Sergei prefers to work in regions vulnerable to human rights violations, including his home country and countries of Southeast Asia such as Nepal, India and Bangladesh. Stroitelev believes that a well-executed documentary project is the best instrument for raising awareness about social issues, which is missing in those regions.

The Compromise

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.