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Work / Photography

Photographer Turkina Faso on shooting her younger sister Alice for over a decade

Most sibling relationships would probably struggle under the strain of an intense and long-running artistic collaboration. But for the photographer Kati Turkina (best known by her pseudonym Turkina Faso) and her younger sister Alice, a decade-long photography project has been the making of their relationship.

Turkina was already 13, when Alice was born. “I always wanted to have a sister, but due to the age difference, it was hard to maintain our relationship,” says the older sister. “I was hormonal, she was growing up. Sometimes I thought that we couldn’t find anything in common to help us communicate.”

A shift came after Turkina moved to Moscow to study Journalism and Literature, exploring photography in her spare time. “We started to work together properly in 2013,” she says. “Before then it was more spontaneous, not planned as a series or anything coherent.” The impact on their relationship was massive. “We discovered that photography is our language, a means of communication and a bridge between us. Everything became easy and clear. Alice was a natural born muse, model, a great partner. I was just doing what I love.”

From that moment on, Turkina has shot Alice every few months and has an enormous bank of photos, some completed for commercial projects, others for editorial, and others just for her and her sister. The work has even become a book, MeAndThem: Back home with Alice. “I considered it a family album, something really personal and specific and wasn’t sure if it would be interesting for anyone else,” says Turkina. “Surprisingly, we’ve had good feedback.”

The series has been a real labour of love and has demanded a lot from both participants – but perhaps slightly more from Alice. “She didn’t mind waking up at four or five in the morning to take pictures during sunrise or walking for hours in the hills to capture a sunset,” says Turkina. “She’s floated in chilly water, stood on a horse’s back, worn silly make-up and never complained.” (Anyone with an older brother or sister will likely experience, reading at least some of these ordeals, an all-too-familiar flashback to childhood “games”.)

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Turkina Faso: Alice

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Turkina Faso: Alice

It’s now been over a decade since Turkina started shooting her younger sister. Ahead of an exhibition at a French festival for portrait photography in Vichy this June, the photographer has been reflecting on the body of work and certain images have particular resonance. “I love the picture with the horse,” she says. Both her and Alice were obsessed with horses when they were younger, so when they went to see one on a neighbour’s farm, it was a special moment. “I was a bit nervous because you never know how an animal will react to you, but Alice said: ‘Don’t worry, I know her, let me show you!’ And she started to interact with her. I was just there to capture the moment, it was magical.”

Another picture Turkina picks out of the project is the one taken in a swimming pool, which she says “makes [her] feel the warmth of childhood”. Again, there is a personal story behind the shot. “I used to go to that swimming pool with my family and my grandmother Toma. She loved me so much that she even allowed me to eat ice cream while swimming. That memory has stuck with me forever.”

This is the crux of the entire project: memory and how it shapes us and warps over time. “All the pictures I kind of recreated, they’re not literal,” says Turkina. “They consist of memories, but they are also semi-real. It is a fake documentary, a story with magical realism, not a reconstruction of someone’s life.”

Over the years the project has also changed in its significance for the sisters – no longer simply providing a connection to each other, but also to a particular place. “Alice has since moved away from that region,” says Turkina, referring to the small Russian city of Essentuki in the North Caucasus, where the pair were both born. “We would probably never go back, but all these images are keeping us together and making us feel at home. She lives in Moscow, I’m in London, but it doesn’t separate us from each other and from our heritage.”

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Turkina Faso: Alice (2011)

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Turkina Faso: Alice (2015)

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Turkina Faso: Alice (2014)

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Turkina Faso: Alice (2013)

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Turkina Faso: Alice (2017)

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Turkina Faso: Alice (2018)

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Turkina Faso: Alice (2014)

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Turkina Faso: Alice (2017)