Negatives found in the attic discover a master photographer from the USSR

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There are probably not many of us who haven’t heard of Vivian Maier, a street photographer whose work was discovered accidentally after it was sold at an auction. But she is not the only photographer whose marvelous work was discovered only after her death.

In 2017, Asya Ivashintsova-Melkumyan found a dusty box of 30,000 negatives in the attic of her home in Pushkin, Saint Petersburg. They belonged to her mother, Masha Ivashintsova, who took these photos between 1960 and 1999. Masha rarely showed her work to anyone, so Asya developed the films and what she discovered was astounding. A collection of poetic, documentary, emotional and gloomy photos testify of Masha’s life in and the time in which she lived.

Two girls in Vologda, USSR, 1979

Masha Ivashintsova was born in 1942 and she passed away in 2000. As her daughter Asya writes, she and her husband found the negatives in the attic in 2017, when the house was undergoing a renovation.

According to Asya, all of the photos were taken between 1960 and 1999. Her mother Masha was heavily engaged in the Leningrad (today’s St. Petersburg) poetic and photography underground movement between the 1960s and 1980s. She had three big loves throughout her lifetime. Asya writes that they “defined her life, consumed her fully, but also tore her apart.” Her three partners were geniuses of their time, and Masha reportedly believed she was a pale figure in comparison with them. This is why she never showed her photos, poetry, and diaries to anyone during her life.

Leningrad, USSR, 1974 | Masha Ivashintsova with her lover, photographer Boris Smelov

 Moscow, USSR, 1976 | Melvar Melkumyan with his and Mahsa’s only daughter, Asya

Masha’s lover Viktor Krivulin | Novolukoml, Byelorussian SSR, 1979

In 1981, Masha was unwillingly committed to a Soviet mental hospital for the first time. As Asya writes, she thinks she sometimes sees “a warning, a sort of premonition of coming future events in her photography.” In 2000, Masha died in her daughter’s arms after a battle with cancer.

I see my mother as a genius, but she never saw herself as one — and never let anybody else see her for what she really was.

As an attempt to pay a tribute to her mother, Asya started a website where she publishes some of Masha’s work and tells her story. I find Masha’s photos emotional and sometimes gloomy and intense. I believe her work testifies of her time, her thoughts and strong emotions she felt. Take a look at more photos below and make sure to visit the website an Instagram page. There you can read more about Masha and see more of her work.

Nevsky Prospekt | Leningrad, USSR, 1975

Melvar Melkumyan | Moscow, USSR, 1983

Leningrad, USSR, 1977

 | Asya and her dog Marta | Leningrad, USSR, 1980

Toy store «Detsky Mir» | Dzerzhinsky Square, Moscow, USSR, 1983

Leningrad, USSR, 1981

Melvar Melkumyan, | Moscow, USSR, 1979

Leningrad, USSR, 1976

Marta | Leningrad, USSR, 1978

Village near Lake Sevan, Armenia, 1976

Leningrad, USSR, 1978

Stalin | Leningrad, USSR, 1978

[via Radio Free Europe; lead image: a self-portrait of Masha Ivashintsova]

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