Documentary

River under Earth

© Dmitry Ermakov
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River under Earth
Russia

The European part of Russia was originally populated mostly by Finno-Ugrian people, not by Russians. There are still four million of them. They speak different languages, but united not only by blood. They are pagans — sometimes, having converted to Christianity or Islam, without fully realising it.

Many of our customs and tales came from these people. And our roots as well. I found out that some of my grandparents were partly Finno-Ugric, though they never spoke about it, for political reasons.

Their history is similar to the Indians’ in North America – the Finno-Ugric lands were, in fact, colonized by Russians and Tatars. The history’s always written by the winners and that’s why our origins are seldom talked about – though it’s no secret. The locals are skeptical of the federal authorities as well. No wonder why: i.e., just look at the terrible life conditions in many villages. So, these people rarely talk to strangers.

They are also quiet about their pagan tradition because there’s a dark side to it. A story from an Udmurt village: the village chief took apart the prayer house and rafted the logs down the river. A few days later, a fanatic cut off his head. And those stories are plenty.

From the Baltic Sea to Western Siberia, Russia remains Finno-Ugric land, in a manner. If you only go a couple of hundred miles eastward of Moscow or St.-Petersburg, you will see the Finno-Ugric matrix through the depressing provincial routine. In some remote places, tens of thousands of real pagans live. This phenomenon in the supposedly Orthodox Russia is a silent agreement of the people with their rulers.

I travelled to many places where Finno-Ugric people live: Udmurtia, Mari El, Chuvashia, the east of Leningrad region. I saw the world full of archaic things, with Nature as the main religion. But the tradition may soon be gone due to the globalization and Russification. With my project, I want to save some essence of this original wild beauty.

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Dmitry Ermakov
the authorDmitry Ermakov
Dmitry Ermakov is a visual artist working with documentary photography, art photography, photo books. He was born in Moscow in 1978. Worked as a writing journalist in 2004−13, then as a visual journalist. Since 2017 he switched to longer stories and projects. In 2018 he graduated from Fotografika documentary/art photo academy in St. Petersburg. In his stories, Dmitry deals with cultural codes of people and communities, exploring the themes of collective memory and personal identity. Some of his projects are related to ecology and post-industrial culture. Dmitry uses both film & digital equipment.

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