The Illusion of Free Time: Visual Diary by Elena Volkova

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Like many introverts, I started this quarantine thinking about opportunities the isolation could uncover—so much time for reflection, so much time to start new projects, so much needed time to spend with family.

I could finally not leave the house, stay home and do what I love: observe light and reflect on my subjective domestic experience—a line straight from my artist statement.

Experienced through the lens of the domestic environment, the images presented in this collection are observations of the everyday personal moments that poetically document what it means to be living through the time of the pandemic, and to be compelled to get to know one’s place in a deep introspective way.


View from the bedroom window


Framed backyard

This is a familiar view of my neighbors’ backyards. I am becoming self-conscious about what they see. Living in these tight-space row-homes, we unintentionally become spies of each other’s life drama. It is mostly quiet here. Occasionally, I hear distant and desperate parental voices losing patience. I am becoming self conscious about the sounds coming from us.



View from the kitchen, veiled
Yev, examining the garden in the morning

Yev spends most of his time obsessing over the backyard—five garden boxes, a compost area, a new deck, monkey bars, and a climbing area for our son—weeks’ worth of work. We talk about how great it would be for us to do pull-ups daily, and all of the delicious vegetables we want to eat. I promise to take care of the front garden, knowing that I will never get to it. There is a sense of hope in this illusion of free time. I secretly wish that the quarantine will continue for a little longer—I have not yet started any projects.



Playing with fire

For weeks, Lukasha hadn’t played with kids. I try to find a place within that makes me a good teacher, as I attempt to build structure around our chaotic lives. I fail. Instead, we do a hundred five-minute activities, bouncing between cooking, legos, bike rides, superheroes, sword fighting, hiking in the woods, Norse mythology, sketchbooks, and fairy houses. I try hard to understand what it means right now to be his mother, and what it means for him to be my son. I give in and surrender to his innocence. What a unique moment for us to learn about each other.



Tooth #1
Katerina in the golden hour
Yev, hiding

I think about how many different things I can be bad at simultaneously. Here is the list: being a mom, being a partner, housekeeping, working, teaching, losing weight, focusing, making art (I’m sure there’s more). I read an article about mid-career women artists, and how self-doubt hinders the creative process. I think of myself as one of these women, and it doesn’t help. I hesitate to define myself through the daily domestic routine, but there is no escape from it.


Bedroom Dust


21st Birthday Shoot

Katerina turned 21, and we celebrated by going to the store and buying tequila. She got upset because no one checked her ID—under the mask, we are all old enough to drink. I think of all of the 21st birthday presents I had in mind: a photo album from the past ten years of her life, a baby-teeth necklace with each tooth covered in silver, tickets to a music show, our first real bar-hopping outing. Somehow, I forgot about all of them and defaulted to taking my daughter to the liquor store.



Still Life with objects found on the kitchen table

A friend brought over a small jar with Covid-Bastard sourdough starter. I take up bread making in hope to feel a little better about myself. After a dozen or so, my loaves become decent, and I start baking compulsively.



Blue Eyes

When Lukasha was born, I spent most of my time in quiet in-between moments observing light moving around the walls, to balance the postpartum depression and endless sleepless nights. It was a slow reflective time, full of the everyday poetry. I seek these moments now, picking up the camera in an act of resistance.



An evening reflection
Road Trip
July 4th


Inside – Outside


In the evening, I take my camera for a walk, falling in love with colorful lens abstractions of the evening streetscapes. The thousands of these isolation survival photos taken on the walks sit in my drive for weeks. As escapist as they are, I don’t understand these images, and, perhaps, this is exactly what drives me to shoot more and more of them.



Mundane juxtaposition (or, the migraine)
Kitchen wall, morning light

The morning light here is truly magical. I remember walking into this house for the first time, fifteen years ago, and saying to my real estate agent that I didn’t want to look at any other homes. I like spending time here; this house has an exquisite sense of stillness and timelessness; it’s a real home.



Anonymous Landscape

I am so used to the time we spend together here. In the past six months, I learned that it is only natural for the concepts of completely opposite nature to coexist. Things are both beautifully quiet and unbearably loud and obnoxious. The sense of time is both nearly still and moving at incredibly fast speed, hard to catch. We are all connected to each other, but yet, our differences are felt so much stronger. We love each other so much, and value this time together, and intensely feel the need to claim our own space.



Bio: Elena Volkova was born and raised in Kiev, Ukraine, and moved to the U.S. in 1994. She earned two degrees from the Maryland Institute College of Art: an MFA in Studio Arts as well as a BFA in Photography. Elena’s current body of work follows post-minimalist aesthetic and focuses on liminal space, bringing attention to the everyday overlooked moments and addressing viewer’s interaction with an art space.  Volkova has received several recognitions and awards, including the Janis Meyer Traveling Fellowship, Hamiltonian Fellowship, Sondheim semi-finalist awards well as Vermont Studio Fellowship. She has exhibited her work regionally and internationally. Volkova resides in Baltimore, MD and teaches Photography at Stevenson University.

Also, check out: 10 Frames Per Second, A weekly podcast exploring topics of photojournalism through the eyes of working photojournalists. Aiming to go beyond “tech talk,” 10FPS focuses on the heart of photojournalism: why and how we do what we do, and is hosted by J.M Giordano and Elena Volkova, produced by Audrey Gatewood and John Devecka at the WLOY studio at Loyola University Maryland.

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