In 2008, Russian photographer Irina Popova was taking photos by a St. Petersburg nightclub when she saw a woman urinating in the street while her daughter sat in a stroller nearby.
Then a 21-year-old college student, Popova asked the woman, Lilya, if she could take her photograph. That photo spurred a months-long photo project on the lives of the little girl, Anfisa, and her parents, Lilya and a man named Pasha.
With the family’s permission, Popova stayed with them for several weeks in the single-room apartment they all shared. Lilya and Pasha both abused drugs and alcohol, and Popova saw how their carefree, destructive lifestyle affected their young daughter.
Russians view drug abuse as a huge problem, with more than 2.5 million Russians addicted to various drugs, according to government statistics cited by the Associated Press. 90% of Russia’s drug abusers use heroin, which flows freely there from Afghanistan.
Popova’s photographs have been collected in a book, “Another Family,” but she shared a selection with us here.
This is Lilya and Pasha. They live in St. Petersburg and abused drug and alchol when Popova stayed with them. Both are in their late 20s in this picture.
Here's the stroller Anfisa was in when Popova met her mother in front of the St. Petersburg nightclub.
When Popova asked Lilya if she could take her picture, Lilya began striking different poses, before laying down on the pavement. She was clearly on drugs.
Lilya invited Popova to tag along with her and Pasha as they raised their 2-year-old, Anfisa. They took Anfisa everywhere, even when they were partying.
Lilya loved performing for the camera. When Popova was present, she would go out of her way to do different things for the camera.
Pasha and Lilya's apartment was a hub for the pair's friends -- junkies and dropouts who liked to party, do drugs, and play loud music.
The family's apartment was littered with empty beer bottles, dirty blankets, and cat feces. Anfisa could frequently be found crawling around the debris.
Occasionally, Anfisa amused Pasha and Lilya's friends by putting her mother's cigarettes in her mouth.
Lilya and Pasha had a tumultuous relationship. Here they have an argument about money on the street. They went in different directions, but at the last moment, they both looked back.
Despite Pasha and Lilya's destructive lifestyle, Popova says she tried not to judge them. She maintains that she saw them love and care for Anfisa.
In a film that Popova made about the family, Lilya says their lifestyle was a kind of 'philosophical experiment' to see how far they could go to find an alternative way of living.
Several months after Popova photographed the family, she exhibited the photos in St. Petersburg. The pictures started an uproar online. Bloggers attacked Lilya and Pasha for how they raised Anfisa. They attacked Popova for photographing them without helping the child.
Popova maintains that, while she didn't set up any photos, her photos don't tell the whole story. In this photo of Anfisa leaning out a window, Lilya was nearby ready to catch her. There was also a safety net below the window.
After the uproar, police asked Popova for the family's address. She refused to tell them because she knew Russian orphanages were so bad. Ultimately, Lilya and Pasha separated and got off drugs.
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