Nanna Heitmann: “Hiding from Baba Yaga”

Winner Award Newcomer 2019: Nanna Heitmann

Kingdom of Myths: The Yenisei River is one of the longest rivers in the world, and it was the guiding line that Nanna Heitmann followed through Siberia. She speaks about the ideas that lie behind her “Hiding from Baba Yaga” series.

“My mother comes from Russia; but Russia, apart from Moscow, was just a large, blank space on the map. So, I decided to do a semester abroad in Tomsk, Siberia. The way I imagined Russia was defined by Soviet children’s films and Slavic fairy tales; and they also inspired my story, “Hiding from Baba Yaga”. Baba Yaga is an important figure in Slavic folklore. She is an unpredictable and dangerous witch who lives in a little hut in the middle of the forest. For my project, I borrowed a Russian Jeep, packed it with camping equipment, and drove towards the Tuva Republic in the south of Siberia. I had some inspired images in mind and places I wanted to see along the way. I received support from the mother of a friend, who was working there as a geologist, and who helped me connect with people and find locations. Visually speaking, Russian painters were a great source of inspiration: Ivan Bilibin, an illustrator of Russian fairy tales; and Mikhail Nesterov, whose symbolic pictures at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow used to amaze me as a child.”

“I viewed my journey as a documentation of life along the river, and about the mythology of the region.”

“To a large degree, I followed the flow of the Yenisei along my journey. Its source lies in the Tuva Republic – which is part of the Russian Federation – on the border with Mongolia. It meanders northward through the whole of Siberia, until finally emptying into the Arctic Ocean. Following its course took me through the raw wilderness of the Siberian taiga. I viewed my journey as a documentation of life along the river, and about the mythology of the region. I searched for dreamlike images. It soon became clear that the river itself was not so important. I photographed local characters because people have always sought protection and freedom along the banks of the Yenisei and in the bordering taiga: criminals, escaped serfs, renegades, adventurers and Old Believers.”

Nanna Heitmann

Born in Ulm in 1994, Nanna Heitmann studied Photojournalism and Documentary Photography at college in Hanover. She spent a semester abroad in Tomsk, Siberia. In 2018, she was shortlisted for the Lensculture online magazine’s Emerging Talents Award for her work. The same year the series shown here earned her the Vogue Italia Prize of the PHMuseum’s Women Photographers Grant. She became a Magnum Agency nominee in 2019.

Portrait: © Nanna Heitmann