The French photographer is a precise and persistent observer. During her many travels, she has captured, with great sensitivity, the living environments of the most diverse peoples and regions. One of her best-known series is a photographic portrait about youngsters at the Artek holiday camp. Since 1994, Doury has travelled four times to this Pioneer camp. Located close to the small town of Hurzuf on the Crimean Peninsula, it was established back in 1925; and throughout its nearly one hundred years of existence, the camp has enjoyed an eventful history. Built initially as a temporary campground, in the fifties it began evolving in line with Soviet ideology, until it became a modern leisure and holiday camp. A new chapter began, following the end of the Soviet Union: the complex became more commercial; but financial issues threatened its closure in 2009, so Ukraine decided to take over its administration. Even after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, the camp continues to stand, and has evidently become more ideologically-oriented, once again.
Doury’s series conveys far more than mere nostalgia; it is convincing because of the photographer’s sensitive visual aesthetics. She was initially interested in the activities taking place at the camp; yet, she soon moved her focus to the young people, representing this vulnerable stage of a person’s life. Doury captures moments of loneliness, of fragility, of physical transformation, of the discovery of the other – centred around the game of seduction – beyond any political ideology.
How did you hear about the place, and what triggered you to work there?
I can’t remember exactly how I heard about this very prestigious Pioneer camp; but I felt like discovering this mini secret world, in a country that was still somewhat closed. I went to Artek for the first time in the summer of 1994. I had heard talk about this holiday colony in Crimea – the largest camp of Pioneers in the Soviet Union – and I was interested in seeing what had become of it, once the Union and the Pioneers had disappeared.
I proposed doing a reportage for the newspaper Libération. Then, three years later, the magazine Marie Claire France wanted to publish something, and sent me back there, together with a journalist. After that, it was the German magazine Mare that became interested, and asked me to return to the camp. As of that moment, I began to see the place differently. It wasn’t so much the various activities of the children that I was interested in, but rather the relationship between the adolescents themselves: their emotions in the midst of their activities; their social life; this new and ephemeral time. So I went back over two consecutive summers – 2002 and 2003 – to further pursue this work.
Was it easy to get in touch with the administration and get all the permits?
I was helped by friends who were able to communicate with the administration. During my first trips, I was systematically accompanied by someone from the administration; but yes, I was allowed to visit the camp freely.
How did you approach the young people? Were there certain procedures to gain their trust?
During my first visits, I followed all the activities of the children and the adolescents: the morning gymnastics, the dance rehearsals, the afternoon nap, and the organised evenings. The approach was primarily collective. Afterwards, when I returned – this time with my daughter, who wanted to integrate Artek into her vacations – I took a different approach. I no longer wanted to document the young people’s daily lives, but rather accompany them outside of their activities – during their “down time”, and their “reveries”. My approach was undoubtedly also different because I returned accompanied by my daughter, Sasha, and I followed her roommates, in particular.
What did a normal day in the summer camp usually look like?
The morning activities began early with a gymnastics session, followed by breakfast. Afterwards came a series of sports training (nautical sports, dance, etc.), which continued throughout the day. At last I understood why this country won so many medals at the Olympic Games!
And – as always – the technical question: which camera(s) and which lenses did you work with? An analogue Leica M6 and a Summilux-M 35 mm f/1.4 ASPH?
The same M6 camera with the same aspheric lens – 35mm Summilux 1.4.
Did you/do you keep in touch with any of the young people?
I’ve been contacted at times by young people who saw my pictures on the internet, and wanted to know if they could have pictures of themselves. I put aside and sent them each a copy of my book, Artek.
You deliberately did not create your series as a documentary; but, how would you describe it?
My Artek series began with a documentary style, but then evolved towards a more personal approach where reality and fiction merge. The break moments between two activities, were propitious for the atmosphere I was looking for. These spaces in time, intervals between two different activities, are characteristic of this transitional age – the time between two ages; between two worlds. The holiday colony was the perfect place to observe this period of transition. I think it is what I search for in most of my work; to capture that which is timeless.
Claudine Doury was born in Blois, near Orléans, France, in 1959. After studying Journalism, she first worked as a photo editor, before turning fully to photography. She has received a number of awards for her work, including the Leica Oskar Barnack Award (1999). Her mostly long-term series have been published and exhibited worldwide. Doury has been a member of the Agence VU since 1991. She lives and works in Paris. find out more about her photography on her website and Instagram page.
The exhibition Claudine Doury – Between Magic and Reality is currently on display at the Leica Gallery, Wetzlar.