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The Siberian odyssey

On one of the tributaries of the Amur River near Blagoveshchensk, 1991.
On one of the tributaries of the Amur River near Blagovechtchensk, 1991. Claudine Doury / Vu Agency / Academy of Fine Arts

It's so pretty name, the Love River. It opens the doors of a world unknown, sometimes fantasized, along the border between Russia and China. He loving. The photographer Claudine Doury visited her Russian banks for the first time in 1991, a second time in 1997, then a third time, this year, fascinated by her first discovery, in a tiny local museum: the cliche of a woman oroqen, a tribe from Siberia. "It looked like an Apache picture taken by Edward Curtis [célèbre photographe ethnologue américain] ! " Astonishment gives way to passion.

See as well In the meanders of the Love River in Siberia

In those areas of eastern Siberia bordering the muddy river to the Russian Far East, in this "Frigidaire country" as she names it with tenderness, Claudine Doury is attached to these native Asiatic people – Nivkhe, Oultche or Nanaï, ethnic minorities as there are more than twenty others in greater Russia. Solitary trips. Because few foreigners linger here. What is there to see, by the way? Glacial in winter, sweltering in summer, the taiga is monotonous. His villages, lost in space, offer few attractions. But the haunting cliché of the Oromo woman appealed to others.

"There is still no asphalt, the toilets are still at the bottom of the garden. There is a Leroy-Merlin in Khabarovsk, but everywhere else it's as if time has stopped. Claudine Doury

In 1991, the Frenchwoman, who works for the agency VU, landed in the village of Nergen, facing the mythical river-border. Then in another, and yet another. His series of portraits, in black and white, was awarded the Leica Oscar Barnack Prize in 1999, and was the subject of a monograph, Siberian peoples, published the same year at Seuil. His images bear witness to the agony of these minority cultures, sometimes victims of racism, and the savage assaults of industrial pollution on the environment. But these clichés also speak of miscegenation, of young people who are warming at the edge of the Fishy Love, of ordinary families, Russian or Nanai, who open the door of their modest cuisine. Orphans too, victims of the ravages of alcohol in their families.

Twenty-seven years later, Claudine Doury, winner of the 2017 Marc Ladreit de Lacharrière Award from the Académie des Beaux-Arts, already crowned by the World Press in 2000 and the Niépce Prize in 2004 for all of her work, is returned on the spot. From Khabarovsk, the eponymous capital of the region, she followed the meanders of Love to find those she shared yesterday's daily. She saw the former mayor, 85-year-old Margarita, with long hair falling to mid-thigh. She attended the wedding of Nikita, Slava's son, who became a man. She especially found that nothing had changed, or maybe if, but worse. Yesterday banned, the territory along the border of China remains difficult to access. The same underprivileged villages dot the countryside, the same wooden houses stand up, still a little more dilapidated. "There is still no asphalt, the toilets are still at the bottom of the garden, surprised Claudine Doury. There is a Leroy-Merlin in Khabarovsk, but everywhere else it's as if time has stopped. "

Read also: Travels to Siberia next to photographer Claudine Doury

Young Oultches and Nanaï are trying to reach this regional capital, which they prefer to the city of Komsomolsk-on-Amur, closer but where the work does not abound. Alcohol remains a scourge. The Russian Far East is no exception. More than 39 million people still do not have access to running water in Vladimir Putin's Russia. Far from the gleaming Moscow, to travel the regions of this huge country, it is also going back in time. Ethnic minorities suffer from an additional handicap: in June, a law was passed making it optional to teach 34 out of 35 official languages ​​- that is, all but Russian. Their learning is now limited to two hours a week.

Read also Sidérante Siberia

"A Siberian Odyssey", exhibition by Claudine Doury as part of Paris Photo at the Grand Palais, 3, avenue du General-Eisenhower, Paris 8e, until November 11, and at the Academy of Fine Arts, 23, Quai de Conti, Paris 6e, until November 24, for the 7e edition of the Photo Saint-Germain festival.

"Claudine Doury, along the Love River", The Special Gallery, 16, rue du Perche, Paris 3e. Until 1st December.

Isabelle Mandraud (Moscow, correspondent)

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