Last month we featured Eugenia Maximova’s kitsch table-top still lifes. Now we feature an earlier portrait series – her images of ornately decorated gravestones in the cemeteries of former Soviet territories
Bulgarian-born Eugenia Maximova began her series of images in cemeteries while working on the project Of Time and Memory, for which she photographed interiors in the Moldovan capital of Chișinău. A detour through a cemetery in the capital city became the unexpected starting point for her new project, Destination Eternity.
“I didn’t really choose the theme – it chose me,” she says. “It was a coincidence. I have been dealing with the subject of death a lot in recent years. My mother died suddenly from a heart attack a few years ago and it was a huge shock, which I am still trying to overcome. Death is the ultimate end in physical and psychological terms. Nobody knows what’s next – neither the optimists, nor the pessimists.”
The trend for these highly decorative gravestones, which can include intricately engraved, coloured marble plaques featuring landscapes or portraits, for example is thought to have begun shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union at the end of the 20th century, explains Maximova. With its roots in kitsch, which was especially popular during the Soviet era, the trend has led to a new “cemetery culture”, she says, where graveyards have become not only a place to express grief but also to celebrate the life of the person, their financial power or social status.
“In my opinion, cemeteries reflect society. They are a perfect summary of what is going on in a country or in a particular place over time. For me, this work is about aesthetics, influence, dictatorship, peer pressure and more. These are all issues that really matter to me.”
Maximova has been working on the series for 18 months, photographing cemeteries in cities in Moldova and the Ukraine, including Chișinău, Kiev and Dnipropetrovsk, but she doesn’t consider the project finished yet.
“I plan to continue working in Russia and Georgia, and I also want to include some pictures with gravestones of gypsy baronesses and people’s pets,” she says. “I’ve heard that they are incredible. “I try not to be repetitive [in my images] and instead attempt to show the huge variety of possibilities,” she adds. “I am impressed by the fact that it doesn’t matter who the person was when they were alive – a taxi driver, KGB agent, olympic champion, manager or Mafioso – they were all honoured in the same ‘prestigious’ way.”