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Text and photos by Natalya Nova.


I was in my bedroom when someone knocked. I looked in the peephole and saw myself on the other side of the door. My “other self” was skinny, dirty, veiny and vulnerable, she was begging me to let her in while tears were falling down her face.

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As soon as I opened the door something evil jumped on me. It was trying to choke me, was cutting me with her fingernails. I was fighting her, I wanted her out.

Then I woke up.

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For the first time in the past 20 years I had such a vivid dream.

For the past three years I didn’t have any dreams, or didn’t remember them. It was all a big blur. I couldn’t find clarity. Or maybe I didn’t want to?

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Ever since I came to America from Russia in 2006 my life has been quite a roller coaster.

After marrying a man that I was not supposed to marry my only desire was to “go away”, to find an escape, not to be present, not to feel, not to see.

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I’ve heard America was a free country. I wanted my freedom. I felt trapped. I felt like I was the one who trapped myself. It wasn’t his fault. He truly loved me, or the image of me he had in his head. I loved him too. As someone big and kind, as a brother, as a father, as someone I could trust. He was 20 years older and wanted a family. I was a 20 year old girl who wanted papers. At least I didn’t lie to him about that.

I didn’t know who I was. I didn’t know who I wanted to be. I only knew I wanted everything else but him. And I hurt him, many many times. And he could never forgive me. But he was not leaving me either. My life was becoming a joke. Not a funny joke. That’s when I started photographing.

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I photographed to forget. I photographed to remember.

I was undeniably drown to the world I was able to create, the world I could always run to, where there is no pain, no judgement, where time stops.

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Drugs were an express train to that world. I was always afraid of chemicals, never wanted to be called a “drug addict”. So my choice seemed easy. Pot. Weed. Herbs. Whatever you call it.

Pot sounded harmless because no one ever died from smoking pot, right? And pot isn’t even a drug, as some claim. Others say that you can get very creative when you are high.

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I became a master of rolling up the joints. I became a virtuoso of lies.

He must have suspected something weird about my behavior but I knew exactly how to hide every sign of my new habit. It’s not like I was faithful to him either.

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And then he asked me to leave.

And I did. I thought it was enough. In a way it was a relief.

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I had my own life then anyway. A life he could never understand or be a part of.

One day I realized I had a problem. Reality stopped existing for me. I hated not being high. It hurt.
I realized that I became a slave to my addiction.

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Last year I was finishing my studies at the International Center of Photography.

I was trying to quit smoking pot for 1 year already. All my attempts were a failure. I was a serious addict and could not picture my life without a joint. The glances of a fun, joyful, happy girl, I once used to be, sometimes came to my memory. I wanted that girl back badly, but with every other drag, joy and life were being sucked out of me. I thought I was condemned to spend my life sitting in the bathroom, smoking. The feeling of being choked wasn’t leaving me for quite some time. And no matter how hard I tried to numb it, it wasn’t going away. I was trapped, again.

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I became unfair to my friends. I became someone else.

I told my mom that Skype’s camera was broken so she doesn’t see me smoking.

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I missed my mom. She used to braid my hair to get me ready for school every morning. She was always there for me, giving me what she never had, sacrificing her life so I have one, while my dad was coming in and out of the house to sober up and go back to whatever he was doing.

Everyone left me. I felt so lonely. I felt like the whole world was against me. That no one loved me any more and no one ever will. I wanted to forget this feeling of despair that kept on eating me from inside out. I took some pills. Ecstasy. School’s exhibition was coming up. I wanted to prepare for it. I passed out. When I opened my eyes, my computer, as well as my hard drive with some precious work for the school’s exhibition on it, was on the floor. I plugged it in with my shaky hands but computer was not recognizing it any more. I screamed.

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I asked God for help. I asked Him to fix that. To fix my hard drive, my life. I asked Him to heal me, to save me. I started promising Him things. I told Him I will be that good girl I once was if only He gave me a chance.

A project came to mind. I had to do a video about me quitting. Quitting my misery, quitting my self-created prison, my lies, my wrong choices.

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That’s how I created per aspera ad astra, which in Latin means “Through the hardships to the stars”, ( originally titled “Twisted”).

This video project with my self performance went to the final exhibition at ICP in may 2012.

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A lot of people that meet me these days ask me: “How come such a smiley bright girl has so much dark and twisted work?”

I usually laugh. And then say: “It’s only the beginning of the new path.”


Visit Natalya Nova website for more informations and photos.

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