A Drone at the Edge of the World.
The Aerial Photography of Nina Sleptsova
Olga Bubich
“The chalice that I filled with energy from the place of power a year ago,
is almost empty, and, in a thirst to fill itself with something,
has begun to imbibe information dross.
I need northern air.”

Nina Sleptsova, Yakut photographer

Desertedness and expanses of untouched nature have shaped the visual language of the Yakut photographer Nina Sleptsova: she examines snow-covered uluses with occasional flowing streams of deer and the frozen rivers at the end of the world from a bird's eye view. Or rather – to be more precise – from that of a quadrocopter.
When immersing yourself into the gallery of landscape aerial photography and video footage by Nina Sleptsova, you invariably catch yourself thinking: Yakutia with its permafrost is a place that both attracts and terrifies. On the one hand, there is the solitude so desired in our often overcrowded megacities, which finally implies a frank meeting with oneself, a moment of immersion and concentration, while on the other hand there is the wary, logical (but completely unnecessary) question of the outsider: “How can one live in such conditions?”

“The North really is something you either love or hate,” Nina agrees, commenting on her work for Ayarkut, “Thoughts here are extreme, maximalist; you either want to stay here forever or leave and never return, but the cold air is sobering... Cleansing. And time seems to go slower in the north, letting you concentrate on issues far beyond the mundane routine of everyday life. When I photograph nature, it’s as if I’m merging with it, becoming part of it; I learn to observe, and try to figure out many things that I don’t understand when I’m alone with it.”

And yes, it is much more interesting to peer into the white expanses of Momsky or Tomponsky districts than, for example, Danila Tkachenko’s series “Restricted Areas”, which is similar in style and where cold is used as a symbol of desolation, a metaphor for “man’s utopian desire for technological progress”. Nina Sleptsova’s harsh conditions and permafrost are full of life. The emptiness here is rich in inner content. The silence of the ringing north is golden. Yakutian canvases of valleys, gorges and forests unfold with a sense of freedom, a hymn to the beauty of the Earth, and a hint at the fragility of the human and the eternity of the natural.
I love that Nina Sleptsova’s aerial photography is devoid of any critical component: the artist does not use the image of nature to denounce or make a call for action, to fight capitalism or to vote for saving the Arctic. Rather, this is the language of a kind of “correct” meditation in the good sense of the word, a return to the forests or deer in those distant times when people saw in them a manifestation of a mighty, immortal and wise power, and not happily imposing material for subjective interpretations. In other words, this is more akin to the Ashes and Snow odyssey of Gregory Colbert or a symphony by Arvo Pärt than the arctic musical performance by Ludovico Einaudi set to the strains of splitting ice or Tkachenko’s “architecturally and performatively staged constructs” lost in the mountains of the Altai. And now, in the world of the cult of speed and a sense of fatigue with “ultra-modern” art that tries to impress with the complexity of its conceptual multi-steps while moving ever further and further away from pure artistic expressions that can console, soothe and heal, I personally want to watch exactly the sort of thing that Nina is doing.

These feelings resonate with the thoughts of the artist herself, who acknowledges that the choice of aerial photography in her case is comparable to Icarus’ desire to touch the heavens. “As a child, accustomed to happy endings, I had an extreme dislike for the cartoon about this character and his tragic story, but now I understand him very much... Just like I understand why the gods are sitting there on high. I like the feeling of our puniness in relation to the planet; it’s from this the concept of our “impermanence” gets even more consolidated in the subcortex. Amid the chaos and destruction that surrounds us, I want to remember the world in all its beauty, and my special places begin after crossing the River Aldan, going from the Tomponsky to the Momsky district. It’s probably because I’ve always been interested in mountains, dangerous serpentine roads, passes, raging rivers and clean air with a full dose of oxygen,” says the photographer.
The simple and simultaneously deep aesthetics of the Yakutian landscapes of Nina Sleptsova might serve as a good example, reflecting the need for a revival of radical humanism and the emergence of a new type of education, one that is “aesthetic and sensual”, as, for example, mentioned in his lecture by the writer and entrepreneur Tim Leberecht: "To maintain our humanity in this second machine age, we may have no other choice than to create beauty."

Also significant here is the fact that Nina herself is a Yakut; she was born in the village of Sasyr in the north-east of the region and grew up among the indigenous inhabitants, in this case the Even people, who still herd reindeer, are nomadic, and follow their traditional way of life. She learned photography from her parents, for whom this was a hobby, and the red room, enlarger, and amateur documentation of domestic parties have all been part of her reality since her earliest years. “Some time in the tenth year of school, I got my first digital Panasonic Lumix. I took it with me when I went for a month to a summer sports camp in the Chersky Range mountains. For some reason, I call this trip the beginning of my landscape journey,” recalls Nina.
Natural immersion in the context, which is usually seen by foreign photographers through the lens of either the esoteric-exotic or the outside-investigatory, allows the artist to document the surrounding reality in an impartial way: In her pictures, the taiga and permafrost are exactly as they are perceived by locals. The cold is not extreme, but a part of everyday life. The forest is a place where you can go for a walk on your own. The northern air is a resource for regeneration and purification from “information dross”.