In Ekaterina Zershchikova’s ongoing project Vera, Nadezhda, Lubov, the artist photographs people from Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union who now live in Berlin and feel a strong connection to their native cultures. “As a native Russian myself, who spent half my life in Russia, I was fascinated to re-encounter a way of life I had somehow left behind,” she explains. “It felt like returning to my roots, yet at the same time, I was a distant observer. ”

Mother and Daughter © Ekaterina Zershchikova

We discovered Zershchikova’s work in this year’s LensCulture Portrait Awards, and Lucy Conticello, Director of Photography at M Magazine and Le Monde, selected the quirky series as her juror’s pick. “This work is very coherent, using a language that, while fragmentary, is clear and direct,” Conticello reflects. “Each picture reinforces the storyline by introducing the viewer to a different character or detail from the bygone era of the dance hall. I love the portraits and feel that the tight crop and melancholy expressions—hardened by the use of flash—create a productive tension. This take-no-prisoners approach to the subject matter invites nostalgia and, for me, captures this generation’s distanced but fascinated relationship to our past.”

It’s true—while each portrait seems to allude to a character or memory from the past, the images are actually a series of frozen, contemporary moments. The flash makes each shot appear theatrical, but the story of these subjects if far from fiction. We sense cultural pride in their peculiar decor and formal outfits, but the feeling of displacement still lingers across their faces. And this is exactly the point.

While the names we see in the title of the work might seem familiar, Zershchikova explains they serve an intentional purpose in her message. “Vera, Nadezhda and Lubov are not just three female Russian names,” she says. “They are the result of my search for clues that guide me to the things that bring and keep people together.”