This could be considered an outdoor exposition. In Summer 2023 we printed various posters from the series "Their Soul Runs Beneath" and pasted them to several localities on the Volga river.
This website has emerged and the updates are finally done.
A catalogue is in the making but our next step is showing some images on the streets in Arles at the 2024 Rencontres de la Photographie.

Have a look at my Instagram. There’s more.
Our hashtags are #течетрека #silentriver #theirsoulrunsbeneath

Without really knowing where the journey would take me, I started to drift along the Volga, snapping photos of people I encountered and places that passed me by.
This was in the winter of 2017, for it was a long-held desire to breathe in more deeply the haze of this shrouded culture that felt so close after several brief visits dating back to 1991.
I visited this river and its people six times in five years, collecting images that should somehow translate into how I feel about everything that is not depicted, about the scent of the pines after a summer rain, the taste of Kvas, which my Finnish grandmother would prepare in my childhood, the ugly smell of the trash dump in every courtyard, the lovely help when people notice you are not a local, their curiosity, the time they take to show you around, the stories they tell about their families. And also the cruel shiver when standing under a statue of one of the heroes of this land.
To me, it is all there. In the images. In their gaze.

Jorma Mueller

I first met Jorma on the street in Nizhny Novgorod in the company of mutual friends. He turned out to be a Swiss photographer doing a project about the Volga river. He asked me if he could take my portrait, maybe because I was wearing a kimono, maybe because he saw something more. At that time I was still living in Moscow, but was passionately exploring the traditional and contemporary culture of Nizhny Novgorod and Volga region. That’s how it started.
In my previous life, I was a photo editor and worked with dozens of foreign photographers that came to Russia for different reasons. A lot of water had floated since and my focus changed from photography to street art and cultural research. Russia is so huge and uncovered, that every attempt to catch a piece of its life always caused my deepest respect and desire to help. Moreover, a view from outside always has a special value. Foreign travellers and photographers did a great service to the Russian history providing independent witnesses through the centuries.
As time passed by, we became close friends, connected with common interests and rare mutual understanding. We saw each other every trip, I helped a little with communication, we made two trips together. And with time, we started to float in the same boat…  

Jorma’s photographs turned out to be very touching. Beautiful wide landscapes and heartfelt portraits of genuine Russian character. People on the pictures look very pleasant, even sweet. These images are of anthropological type of visual documents of the territory, which is a precious source for researchers. To me, Jorma‘s work relates to Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky, who fixed Russia in color in the beginning of the 20th century. Although the photographs of Prokudin-Gorsky are impartial documents taken from a great distance, Jorma’s photographs are documents with an attitude, certainly a very romantic one. This kind of photography certainly has changed in 100 years. Before, it was focused on capturing the ethnographic subject and credible dry exteriors. „Silent River - Течет река“ shows the anthropological types of Russian people who could have lived in the 20th century or 19th or even before. These images transmit the special atmosphere that the film is able to capture.
The last time Jorma came to Russia in summer 2021, after the pandemic, to finish the shooting part of the project. We didn’t know that soon we were going to face the most dramatic events for Russia. Time is maybe the main actor in this story, and now these images have become something like August Sander’s portraits of Germans before 1939.  Such a turnaround nobody could have expected; we had made completely different plans.

During Jorma's last visit I suggested that if he wanted an exhibition in Nizhny Novgorod, it would be great to put the pictures on the walls in the city, because in Nizhny the best gallery is the street. I had always wondered why photographers expose their pictures on the streets so rarely, although photography is one of the most democratic art media and showing it to unprepared viewers on the street is absolutely natural. Jorma then suggested to display the images not only in Nizhny, but also in other Volga cities. After another 2 years of preparations, whirlpools and shakes, we met in July 2023 in  Nizhny for the street art part. Never before have I seen photographers bringing back printed portraits to their protagonists. Jorma did. And the river was flowing, time was flowing and now the glue was flowing too – the Russian title of the project seemed obvious: „Течет река”, a small line of an epic soviet song by Lyudmila Zykina “Techet reka Volga”, which fully describes this impressive journey. The song is about a person standing beside the Volga, watching their life pass by, envisioning the river as a constant to which they always return.  

“Here is my pier and here are my friends
It’s everything I can't live without
From distant strand in starry silence
Another boy sings along with me”

Anna Nistratova, Street-Art Research Institute

Rivers are containers of history and culture. They have been the engine of many civilizations through time, but still they continue to shape cultures, identities and personalities through their course. They feed societies, they literally move economies, they take you to a next life, they are muses; they give but they also take.
This project seeks to present the different kinds of relationships existing between the inhabitants living next to the river Volga, framed by a bleak landscape, in the remoteness of Russia.
Time and space is what these people have, and what you see most of the time isn’t what it seems. Thus, categories like “recreational”, for example, mean something completely different than one would imagine. These people show another “stage of the mirror”, therefore, the question of the self – “Who am I?” – comes as something inherent in this documentation.

Felipe Duque, Editor at ENTKUNSTUNG, Vienna-Berlin

Photographs by Jorma Mueller, Zurich, Switzerland

Street-artistic support by Anna Nistratova, Nizhny Novgorod, Russia

Website by Maria Bolocan, Berlin, Germany

Sincerest gratitude and appreciation goes to all the depicted individuals and to all friends and helpers who made this street art project possible: Anna Nistratova, Anton Romashkin, Vladimir Kirilichev, Vadim Zhukov, Ksenia Naumova, Alex Partola, Yevgeny Mumrenkov, Sasha Kuridzyn, Elena Sharova, Vlad Sharov, Arsen Sakunts, Svetlana Makoveyeva, Maksim Tsvetov, Glenn Tompkins.

Responsible for the content of this website: Jorma Mueller, Zurich, Switzerland

Site updated: 03 May 2024

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