Monday, February 20, 2017

The wooden churches of Russia

Starting in 2002, British photographer Richard Davies made yearly trips around the Russian north to take photos of old wooden churches. He was inspired by the work of Ivan Yakovlevich Bilibin (1876 - 1942) a Russian artist, stage designer and illustrator of Russian Folk Tales who travelled to the North of Russia a century earlier.

During the summers of 1903 and 1904, the Russian Museum in St Petersburg sent Bilibin to a series of trips to the Vologda, Archangel and Olonets Provinces to collect works of folk art, which subsequently formed the basis of the museum's Ethnographic Department. Many of the photographs taken on these trips were used as illustrations in Bilibin's article of 1904 in the World of Art Magazine entitled 'Folk Art of the Russian North'. In the following years, these photographs were used to draw attention and support the restoration of those wooden churches. 

Recreating those trips, Davies found out that some of those churches have been lost. Some have been left to rot, some have been destroyed by lightning, countless others by ignorance, spite and neglect. Most of the churches remaining are in various states of decay. However, many churches have been saved by dedicated specialists and enthusiasts.

Davies hopes that his photographs, which have been exhibited around Europe and released in a book will raise awareness and inspire a restoration effort, similarly to Bilibin's photographs a century earlier.


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