Israeli photographer Oded Wagenstein traveled to Yar-Sale, a small village in northern Siberia, to document a group of elderly women who have settled there after long lives spent traversing the Arctic tundra as nomadic reindeer herders.
The title of the series is drawn from the Yiddish expression like last year’s snow—a fitting emotional aphorism for the documentary project, given its focus on longing and loss. The elderly women Wagenstein met and photographed in Yar-Sale are Nenets, also known as the Samoyed, an indigenous nomadic community native to northern arctic Russia. Each year they herd large groups of reindeer from summer to winter pastures across some of the world’s most inhospitable landscapes.
Traveling such vast distances in such extreme conditions is physically demanding, and when women reach old age they are often retired to permanent homes. Such relocation, though well-intentioned, means that “they spend most of their days in seclusion, isolated from the world they loved, and their community”, Wagenstein explains. Whilst aging men are encouraged to remain with the migrating community, women are left to face what Wagenstein terms “the struggles of old age” alone in towns that are not their own.
Meeting these women was no small task: “It took a flight, a sixty hour train ride from Moscow, and a seven hour bone breaking drive across a frozen river to meet them”, Wagenstein explains. There, on a remote peninsula in northern Siberia, he spent days conversing with the women whose portraits follow. “I immersed myself in their closed community”, Wagenstain says. “And for days, over many cups of tea, they shared their stories, lullabies and longings with me.”
“I immersed myself in their closed community, and for days, over many cups of tea, they shared their stories, lullabies and longings with me.”
“I feel that my part is over. That I am no longer needed”
– Pudani Audi
“I miss summers when we used to fish. I miss my family and the reindeer, but the thing I miss the most is walking. Walking in the snow.”
– Autipana Audi
“I view everything with a loving eye. I think you learn it as you get older.”
– Angelina Serotetto
“All that is left are the lullabies I sing to myself.”
– Zinaida Evay
“I was born in the tundra and spent all my life there, it’s the only way of living I know.”
– Necla Audi
“I did not fully understand the importance of tradition and family when I was young, I argued so much with my parents. I wanted to escape from my roots.”
– Liliya Yamkina