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.
— 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.
- 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!
— 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.
- 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