Ivan Khafi­zov has been trav­el­ing around Rus­sia for 14 years and pho­tograph­ing wood­en archi­trav­es. Dur­ing this time, he trav­eled to 390 cities, vil­lages and vil­lages and col­lect­ed an archive of pho­tographs of 20,000 hous­es. In addi­tion, Ivan has pub­lished a book about archi­trav­es, main­tains an account about them on Insta­gram and sells mer­chan­dise with them — T‑shirts, masks, posters, and even minia­ture mod­els. We talked with Ivan and found out why pho­tog­ra­phy turned into a study of Russ­ian cul­ture, what archi­trav­es were made in the 90s and where to go to see hous­es with unique carv­ings.

Pho­to from the per­son­al archive of Ivan Khafi­zov

— How did it hap­pen that you start­ed tak­ing pic­tures of archi­trav­es?

- It was the city of Engels, 2007, July 3. I then worked in IT — I went to the enter­prise to install equip­ment. I was released ear­ly, from the enter­tain­ment in Engels there was only the Muse­um of Lev Kas­sil, closed for repairs. So I went and pho­tographed the city. And the hous­es too. I was hooked by col­ored win­dows, and I decid­ed to make a col­lage like the one I had seen before, with Tus­can doors. Then I removed more than a hun­dred win­dows. Made a col­lage, closed the gestalt. An excel­lent poster!

I then shot for pho­to­banks, and this col­lage, by the way, is still sold on Euro­pean stocks. They even sent me a post­card from Ger­many, where it says “old Euro­pean win­dows”. In prin­ci­ple, this is true, since the Sara­tov region is in the Euro­pean part of Rus­sia! Although, of course, it has noth­ing to do with Ger­many.

After that, I had sev­er­al busi­ness trips in a row. For 3 weeks I have col­lect­ed a col­lec­tion of images from 4 regions: Yaroslavl, Nizh­ny Nov­gorod, Vladimir, Sara­tov.

— Where and when did inter­est in the his­to­ry of archi­trav­es appear?

“That was not the orig­i­nal call. But I began to observe and real­ized that the win­dows dif­fer region­al­ly. Not only archi­trav­es of the Sara­tov and Yaroslavl regions, between which a thou­sand kilo­me­ters, but also Ros­tov from Borisogleb, although the cities are 30 km from each oth­er!

After that, I got into Live­Jour­nal, began to look for peo­ple who know about plat­bands. And I did­n’t find it. Only one com­mu­ni­ty that post­ed pho­tos. I real­ized that no one under­stands any­thing about this.

For exam­ple, then every­one was burn­ing with the idea that ancient sym­bols and let­ters were carved on the archi­trav­es, some mean­ings were laid down. I real­ized that I need­ed to find out about it, since there were many incon­sis­ten­cies. For exam­ple, I found an arti­cle on the Inter­net (no one writes about this in books) that the orna­ments depict plants from the pre-glacial peri­od. On the oth­er hand, I talked with archi­tects who say that this is non­sense and that in gen­er­al every­thing came from Europe. I began to grad­u­al­ly clar­i­fy the issue and real­ized that the truth is some­where in between.

It can­not be said that every­thing came from Europe. Rather, yes, it has come, but it lay on fer­tile ground. On the oth­er hand, the pal­mette (a flo­ral orna­ment in the form of a leaf — author’s note), ancient plants, and the same tulip — an ancient sym­bol that has been used as an orna­ment in our and East­ern cul­tures for a thou­sand years! Every­thing is inter­pen­e­trat­ing.

Archi­trav­es of Zlyn­ka and Suz­dal. Pho­to: Ivan Khafi­zov / instagram.com/nalichniki

- When did you first go for plat­bands pur­pose­ful­ly?

— Oh, not soon. I pho­tographed the first 30 cities on busi­ness trips. In 2010, there was the first city “at its own expense” — Dmitrov. I got on the train and went. Even with­out a map. Now at least there is “Yan­dex”, and then a paper map can­not be found dur­ing the day with fire. I just walked, asked the locals where to find wood­en hous­es.

— How did you find the city where to go?

- I was guid­ed by the list of his­tor­i­cal cities of Rus­sia. But when I post­ed it on Live­Jour­nal, they began to write to me that I didn’t have to trav­el to all cities — there are no archi­trav­es in Sev­astopol, Grozny. The same in Kursk and Smolen­sk, where the Nazis cleaned every­thing up. And peo­ple began to send new names. Then it was a dis­cov­ery for me that more wood­en hous­es were pre­served not in cities, but in vil­lages and vil­lages! All this devel­oped, not in accor­dance with the admin­is­tra­tive bound­aries and the impor­tance of the cen­ter.

One day I came to Suz­dal and was amazed by the vari­ety. Plat­bands are col­ored, white, lacy, lush, volu­mi­nous carv­ing! After 6 years, I returned, look­ing for some­thing typ­i­cal­ly Suz­dal, but I walked and saw archi­trav­es from the Ivano­vo region, Vladimir, Kostro­ma, non-Rekhta … And I real­ized that there are sim­ply no Suz­dal ones! I explain it this way: Suz­dal was so rich that it attract­ed crafts­men from all over Rus­sia. Like in Moscow, where it is not clear what kind of archi­tec­ture, because it is a con­glom­er­ate of not only Russ­ian, but also world cul­tures.

Or the sto­ry of Pereslavl-Zalessky. An ancient city, but on the first trip I found only 9 archi­trav­es! Lat­er I got there by car, found a cou­ple dozen more hous­es, obvi­ous­ly of the 19th cen­tu­ry, but most were with­out carv­ings. The fact is that it devel­oped where the city grew in the indus­tri­al rev­o­lu­tion. Peo­ple earned, got rich, and they had to show off in front of each oth­er. Pereslavl is an old church town. And the nobil­i­ty there is also old, she did not have to stand out. There­fore, the carv­ing did not devel­op.

On the oth­er hand, in the wilder­ness of the Bryan­sk forests, the town of Zlyn­ka, every­thing is carved! There was a match indus­try where mer­chants got rich. In addi­tion, Zlyn­ka is a city of migrant masons. They left for six months in all direc­tions, from Paris to Tom­sk, and then returned for six months. They were men with hands. And so they cut out a lit­tle on vaca­tion. And what is it for a skilled man to cut out two dozen boards? The mer­chant would then pick them up and nail them. Man­sions came out with an incred­i­ble lev­el of carv­ing, in five lay­ers!

- What are you film­ing?

On the Canon 6D. Lens­es: Canon 70–200mm (I love it very much), 16–35mm, 100mm macro, 24–70mm f/4 and pan­cake 35mm, but I almost nev­er use it for archi­trav­es. I real­ized that for them aper­ture is not par­tic­u­lar­ly need­ed. You can set the ISO high­er, shoot on a tri­pod. The hous­es don’t run away, so I don’t have any prob­lems.

I shoot in par­al­lel on the phone, but in detail the cam­era is still ahead. I bought the Canon 6D delib­er­ate­ly. This cam­era is semi-pro­fes­sion­al, a lit­tle slow­er, but it has Wi-Fi. She imme­di­ate­ly trans­fers the frames to the phone, and I can imme­di­ate­ly post some­thing on Insta­gram. And on pro­fes­sion­al ones, when I chose a cam­era, this was not the case.

— What are the fea­tures of pho­tog­ra­phy of plat­bands?

The hard­est part was fig­ur­ing out how to lev­el the house. You approach him, and he falls on you. But when a zoom lens appeared, it got bet­ter. Now I pho­to­graph from the oth­er side of the street. And only a lit­tle in the edi­tor you have to cor­rect. Of course, not always: for exam­ple, if the house itself is a lit­tle lit­tered, it must be pre­served!

For many years I tried not to take peo­ple into the frame. I guess it’s because I used to pho­to­graph wed­dings. I shot more than 100, I had enough peo­ple there. But over time, I began to add them to the frame. Or at least cats!

Archi­trav­es of Soim­its and Tom­sk. Pho­to: Ivan Khafi­zov / instagram.com/nalichniki

— How do res­i­dents react to the fact that you come to take pic­tures of their homes?

- Most­ly pos­i­tive. How else would I rent 20,000 hous­es? Peo­ple are hap­py that they rent their house, invite them for tea. I need them not to treat me like a ter­ror­ist, to see that I’m not hid­ing. It is impor­tant for me not only to shoot, but also to com­mu­ni­cate. Explain that this is for the muse­um, so that peo­ple go to the site, save these archi­trav­es, so I always take pic­tures in the open (in Novem­ber 2010, three years after Ivan first pho­tographed the carved win­dow, he cre­at­ed a vir­tu­al pho­to muse­um — author’s note). Five sit­u­a­tions were stress­ful, but these are unique cas­es.

Once in the Tver region, the police took me to the police sta­tion. At the depart­ment, I ask, “Is there some­thing ille­gal in this?” And in response: “No, but sus­pi­cious — yes.” I was with the guys who showed me the city. They called the may­or, he called the gov­er­nor, and he called the head of the depart­ment. Only then, with­out apol­o­giz­ing, after 1.5 hours they let us go!

There was also a sto­ry in the Nizh­ny Nov­gorod region. We arrived in the vil­lage, there are incred­i­ble asym­met­ric plat­bands with mer­maids, from the famous mas­ter of Nizh­ny Nov­gorod carv­ing Kopalkin. An aunt looks out of the win­dow and says that she will not let her rent a house. She said that the archi­trav­es of the neigh­bor­ing house, in which the 90-year-old woman lived, were pho­tographed dur­ing the day, and in the evening they came to cut down. Grand­moth­er looked out, tried to dri­ve them away, and they began to threat­en her. She ran through the gar­dens to the peas­ants, who fright­ened away the thieves with their guns. But her heart gave out and she died. And that woman said that she did not want such a fate for her moth­er, who also lives here alone.

- Do you think it is like­ly that soon they will again dec­o­rate hous­es with carv­ings?

- There is such a thing now! They send me pho­tographs with carv­ings on the hous­es of closed cot­tage set­tle­ments. It’s just that plat­bands are expen­sive. Com­plex costs about 100 thou­sand, sim­ple — from 20 thou­sand. Yes, now machines help, but still man­u­al work. Also, the mate­r­i­al is expen­sive.

I remem­ber a con­ver­sa­tion with a rich man. He want­ed to dec­o­rate the house with carv­ings. I asked for the con­tact details of the mas­ters. The cost was esti­mat­ed at a min­i­mum of 800 thou­sand, a max­i­mum of 1.5 mil­lion. Anoth­er 7 months of work. And he decid­ed to leave the house with­out carv­ings.

Archi­trav­es of Kupan­sky and Bryan­sk. Pho­to: Ivan Khafi­zov / instagram.com/nalichniki

- Do you think that the archi­trav­es on the hous­es that appear now are iso­lat­ed cas­es or a revival of a tra­di­tion?

“If you look deep into his­to­ry, it is clear that the tra­di­tion of dec­o­rat­ing hous­es with carv­ings, in prin­ci­ple, devel­oped non-lin­ear­ly. She had a surge at the end of the 17th cen­tu­ry, then at the begin­ning of the 19th cen­tu­ry after the war with Napoleon. Then there was an inter­est in every­thing Russ­ian, cir­cles of Slavophiles devel­oped. The next rise is the peak of the indus­tri­al rev­o­lu­tion, the turn of the 19th-20th cen­turies. Trans­port acces­si­bil­i­ty is increas­ing, peo­ple are mov­ing between regions, life is in full swing. Folk­loris­tics and ethnog­ra­phy appear.

Every­thing calms down because of the world war, hunger, pover­ty. And then in the 50s, after the death of Stal­in, the peas­ants were giv­en more free­dom. There is a surge again. There are a lot of coun­try hous­es of this time.

The next small rise is in the 90s. Cas­ings with fine carv­ing appear, as there were few mate­ri­als. The orna­ment is dec­o­rat­ed with cross­es, domes, card sym­bols. In the 2010s, there was also a surge. Very short, real­ly. I attribute it to glob­al­iza­tion, when peo­ple again began to trav­el more and com­pare them­selves with oth­ers. And now it’s up again!

There is a term “nation­al roman­ti­cism”. It’s about roman­ti­ciz­ing roots, study­ing the past. Nice to be a part of it, I put in a lot of effort! And the pan­dem­ic, of course, only increased inter­est in our cul­ture, because peo­ple are start­ing to trav­el more around the coun­try. In gen­er­al, Rus­sia is an under­es­ti­mat­ed coun­try in terms of tourism.

— Where would you advise to go to see the archi­trav­es?

- Tom­sk, Irkut­sk, Nizh­ny Nov­gorod, Volog­da, Suz­dal — every­one knows them and it’s worth going there. But there are cool­er cities that no one remem­bers: Borisogleb­sk in the Voronezh region, Zlyn­ka and Novozy­bkov in the Bryan­sk region, Ryazan, Rybin­sk, Gzhel (a clus­ter of vil­lages where you need to go by car or bicy­cle), Yuzha in the Ivano­vo region, Nogin­sk and, of course, Shuya — like a real St. Peters­burg, but only in the Ivano­vo region!

Author: Lisa Chechevit­sa