/ Yana Pirozhkova / Photo story

Returning innocence

What would I be like now, without my traumatic experience? I think about it a lot. I remember that carefree teenager, a village girl waiting, with awe and curiosity, for her fifteenth anniversary. Who is she? Where is she? Sometimes I notice her in the mirror but I’ve never seen her happy. That experience changed her life, left a mark. She couldn’t trust the world anymore, she never learned how to connect with people. Falling in love and building relationships is now a huge risk, it brings suffering. The fear that the ground may fall away underneath her at any moment is now her reality.

I’m going to the village where I spent my childhood and youth years. I hope to find answers to the questions that have been tormenting me for the past 18 years. How can I overcome what happened? Will I be able to stop being ashamed for myself and for my existence?

One day my niece Vika approached me: “Auntie Yana, can you imagine, I made a secret wish, and it came true!” “Great,” I responded, “what was your wish?” “For you to be healthy, and now you came to see us in the village, and you’re so beautiful, and you’re radiating, which means that it came true.” I remember I had a lump in my throat and started crying right in front of my niece. An 11-year-old girl who didn’t see or talk to me for an entire year for some reason gave away her secret wish for me. It was the first time I recognized unconditional love towards me. Such simple, honest, and fearless love. I hugged Vika and told her that these were the tears of happiness. We tightly hugged each other and cried out loud, with laughter and snot. This incident struck me to the core and I stopped focusing on my inner battle and began to look into the world, probably trying to open up to it as easily as did Vika.

At the time my four nieces were in the village on holidays. I couldn’t spend a single moment away from them, avidly observing how they talk to each other, what games they play, how they learn to express their thoughts and to feel their desires, how they effortlessly and fearlessly explore the world. I understood that in the past I also could do that –– be open to everything and not to fear. At one point I began spending more time with them, we took walks together, told each other silly stories, got into fights and arguments, confided our dreams to each other. We formed a real girl gang: Sveta, 11 years old; Vika, 10 years old; Katia, 8 years old; Julia, 5 years old, and myself, 33 years old. Leaving for the village I hope to film a project about my attempt to get over a negative teenage experience that cut my life into before and after. But when I found myself in the world of these girls, I realized that the direction of my project changed, the idea of making art together became important for me, and I offered the girls to shoot a movie together.We wandered around the village, looked for places to shoot, staged and took pictures, and simply enjoyed each other’s company. The girls themselves decided who would an model or a photographer’s assistant.

In the process I began to feel that I’m changing: my behavioral patterns were changing, the armor that I built over the years was gradually crumbling, curiosity was replacing fear. I took a chance, confided in these girls, and let them into my life myself. I returned to St. Petersburg completely transformed. Now I understand that sincere communication with children, the opportunity to make art with them without boundaries and oppression, attentive observation of those who are pure and haven’t experienced evil yet helped me return the innocence that rape stole from me 18 years ago.

Yana Pirozhkova (1986) was born in Perm Krai, Russia, but now lives in St. Petersburg. She has a Bachelor’s degree in architecture and has worked as an architect in Perm and Yekaterinburg. In 2010 she moved to St. Petersburg, where she got into film photography. Right now she is enrolled at Fotografika photo academy in St. Petersburg.