Images taken in Russia from Sarah Blesener’s 2017 winning Alexia project Toy Soldiers were featured today by The Guardian. “Over 200,000 youth are enrolled in cadet clubs that offer a potent mix of patriotism and play fighting. Photographer Sarah Blesener captured the camaraderie among the students in her series,” The Guardian tells us.
Toy Soldiers is Blesener’s examination of patriotism and nationalism among youth. The first stage took place in Russia. Blesener won The Alexia professional grant with this body of work. Her Alexia grant is providing support so she can look these concepts in the U.S. Her images from Russia have been published in a variety of outlets, including Time Magazine, Zeke Magazine, Wired and others.
According to this recent interview with PhotoWings, it was the reception to her work from Russia when first published that compelled Blesener to turn her lens on the U.S. She says that many who saw the images responded to them with fear and used the work to criticize Russia. Another large group of people argued that camps like this should be started in the U.S. She felt that that a reflection of the United States’ own practices were called for.
“I don’t want to ever other somebody or to create an atmosphere of critique that doesn’t point inward at all. [I knew] I had to start doing this work in my own country.” says Blesener in the video. “…The parallels and the rhetorics are incredibly similar. There’s nothing crazy that’s happening there that’s not happening here. It’s the same kind of dialogue… If we do it here, it’s just called patriotism. If they do it in Russia, it’s called nationalism.”