Russia: A Psycho-Neurological Patient's Photo Stories

Pasha Kyshtymov, a lifelong patient of a psycho-neurological internat on the border of Krasnoyarsk and Irkutsk regions of Siberia, cannot communicate through speech, but had no problems learning to express himself through photography.

Russian photographer Oleg Klimov, who visited the internat with colleagues earlier this summer and took some photos there, has documented on his blog [ru] the poignant impromptu experience of teaching Pasha to share his worldview with others:


It is natural, perhaps, that a person who cannot speak is looking for other ways to communicate. Visually, through images, for example… At the psycho-neurological internat in Siberia, I noticed one patient's amazing way of catching other people's peculiarities – he was showing them with his hands and facial expressions, thus explaining what he wanted to say. This is how I understood that “making circular movements with one's thumbs” denoted the internat‘s director. The director is always doing it when he is talking to somebody or is very nervous…

This perceptive person's name is Pasha. He is approximately 30 years old, he [suffered a brain injury at birth, when his head was being pulled with forceps, according to his health record) – and this resulted in a pinched “speech nerve”… It means that Pasha is only capable of saying “Daaa” [yes] and “Nyeee” [no], while the rest of the sounds are hard to comprehend. What exactly he understands, how he feels – in most cases, he is the only person who understands it. He cannot write and he cannot read. He can only observe, make some conclusions of his own, based exclusively on his own experiences, because no one has ever taught him anything. “A pure mind to teach photography!” I thought.

The idea was to quickly and efficiently teach Pasha to take photos. I was sure that with the help of photography, his language would become more “communicative” and I'd be able to understand him better. “Do you want to tell me about a flower?” – I'd ask him, – “Take a photo of a flower and show it to me… Photography is also a way of saying something…” […]

[…] While taking photos, Pasha did not aspire to fame, did not want to get rich through photography, he did not have lofty ambitions of an artist and a limitless faith in his own genius – he wanted nothing but express himself and communicate with the people who surround him. He wanted to tell people so, so much. He was just happy with the camera in his hands. I was laughing when Pasha was making shots that were absolutely like the ones that smart-looking photography school students make, or, which is worse, the ones that “established photo artists” make […]. […]


In a very short time, Pasha became a member of our “experimental expedition.” We were walking together, taking pictures together. Together, we were drinking tea in our hut outside the internat, drinking village milk, eating cheese and excellent chocolate. I bought him a hat that was “almost the same as photographer Syomin's hat,” taught him to fasten a tie, which he preferred to wear like some of the “Kremlin pool” photographers did. In other words, we accepted him as our own and were happy together with him.


But when we came to dinner at the internat, Pasha wasn't allowed inside the dining hall with us. They said we couldn't enter together with the patients. Only separately. We didn't have to explain anything to Pasha. He took off the camera and passed it to me. He wanted to return the hat as well, but I told him it was a present. He waited for us in the street nearby, while we ate our dinner in the official dining hall and were then able to go take photos again…


This “system” is monstrous in its imperfection, the internat‘s director told us – an amazing person, open-minded and principled. A child, whose parents had given him up right upon birth, has practically no chances to get out of this “system,” regardless of whether he has some psychiatric deviations or not, regardless of whether he is capable of living in the society with these deviations or not. This is the “system” that “strictly forbids entrance to outsiders” […] – […] and forbids exit as well…


When we were leaving, we couldn't give Pasha “an extra camera.” And he didn't really have any hope we would. I promised him that we'd find a camera for him, that we'd gather money and buy a new one. Or perhaps some colleague would find an old and unneeded one. And the director promised us that he'd be downloading [Pasha's] photos onto his computer and thus would save them until our next visit. And this way we will learn what Pasha wants to tell us about… […]

[a selection of photos taken by Pasha Kyshtymov]

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