The depiction of “an unattainable chic woman”: Kseniia Grebennikova pays tribute to her grandma in her home town, Nevelsk

Merging portraiture, documentary and fashion photography, Kseniia celebrates the woman who’s informed artistry unlike any other.

7 April 2021
Reading Time
3 minute read

Born and raised in the Far East of Russia, the photographer Kseniia Grebennikova remembers Sakhalin Island, a tiny seaport town of Nevelsk which would go on to greatly influence her practice. “I have always felt an extreme longing for the past and was drawn to nostalgia since I was a child,” she tells It’s Nice That. This longing can be seen in the photographer’s latest project Obsession of Return, taken in Nevelsk and featuring someone very close to Kseniia’s heart, her grandmother.

Kseniia’s grandmother Natasha was the first person who introduced her to fashion. With a bold and distinctive style, Natasha shaped her granddaughter’s idea of what style is from an early age. With perfectly coiffed hair, beautifully painted nails, bright lipstick and elegant accessories, Kseniia wanted to capture her grandmother’s character and the warm nostalgia that she represents. And where else better than their home town of Nevelsk.

The photographer could never explain this yearning for distant memory, so she decided to dedicate her Master’s project to it. Having moved to London at the age of 16 to study Fashion Styling, she later enrolled in Fashion Photography at city’s London College of Fashion. Going back to her initial interest in photography however, Kseniia remembers being 12-years-old and experimenting with her parents’ Sony cyber shot compact camera. She went to school at the Academic Art School where she found a place to develop what she was learning with the camera. Composition, colour application and storytelling all came into question, but by observing and then exploring the world around her, she came into her own photographic oeuvre – one that is evident in Obsession of Return; stylised with a hint of vintage nostalgia.


Kseniia Grebennikova: Obsession of Return (Copyright © Kseniia Grebennikova, 2021)

"Obsession of Return explores the phenomenon of restorative and reflective nostalgia,” the photographer explains, “as it refers to both collective symbols and the culture of Soviet and post-Soviet Russia as well as my personal narrative.” She recycles segments of memories, using her grandma as a symbol for tying the disparate memories together. A love letter to that feeling of coming home, Kseniia’s series depicts her grandmother going about her daily activities in some shots – the hairdresser, walking along the beach and so on – while others are imbued with a splash of humour and the surreal elevating the series beyond the documentary.

Growing up, Kseniia was hugely informed by her grandmother’s aesthetic choices. The way she dressed, did her make up and hair, decorated her house, and behaved in general; all these tokens helped shape Kseniia into the artist she is today. Paying tribute to this “image of an unattainable chic woman” the photographer also wanted to place an image of her younger self in the photography series as a way to reflect on her childhood experiences. In turn, she enacted the help of her younger sister (22 years younger to be exact) who plays with young Kseniia in Obsession of Return. It provided Kseniia with some distance to see her relationship with her grandma and capture it artistically too.

For three months, Kseniia ventured around Nevelsk with her grandmother and sister, shooting everything from the daily ritual to the sacred places on the island that she “always misses and dreams to return to since [she] left.” Describing the process as “intimate, intuitive and raw”, Obsession of Return offers a glimpse of what life was like growing up in Nevelsk and the colourful creative influences surrounding Kseniia. Drawing inspiration from the personal nature of her story, and a curiosity to dig into the psychological and cultural nuances of it, the photographer’s bold visual language upends into a combination of portraiture, documentary and fashion photography.

In the future, Kseniia hopes to expand her practice into other mediums including moving image and film. She also intends to create her first photo book documenting a wide selection from Obsession of Return. She finally goes on to say: “It feels like it is going to be a life long project for me.”

GalleryKseniia Grebennikova: Obsession of Return (Copyright © Kseniia Grebennikova, 2021)

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Kseniia Grebennikova: Obsession of Return (Copyright © Kseniia Grebennikova, 2021)

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About the Author

Jyni Ong

Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor. Feel free to drop Jyni a note if you have an exciting story for the site.

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