Nicholas Muellner’s (b. 1969, United States) In Most Tides an Island is special photobook in that the texts are absolutely lovely and integral. Here, photographs and words work together to offer a deeply personal look at post-Soviet queer life. These lives are often lived clandestinely for fear of persecution or ostracism, and this is how we meet the people in Muellner’s book: in secret, often using euphemisms and coded language.
Reminiscent of a le Carré novel, Muellner describes of a bath house: “the place evoked fantasies of Zurich or Casablanca during the wars. Everyone seemed to know everyone else, but it was difficult to know who was a spy, or where anyone’s sympathies lay.”
This anonymity and secrecy is mirrored in the images in which faces are covered or blurred or turned away, or they’ve been removed in post-processing. There is a certain type of paranoia here; one wrong word or one wrong touch could have dire consequences. But at the same time the book is deeply tender in its exploring the double-lives these people live.
“Only here, on this folding strip of coast from Alushta to Foros, do certain tender species survive. When you are not allowed to love, you will do so all the same. Behind the protective curtain of these coastal peaks, Seva the gardener loves palm trees. Not only as an expert or a specialist, but as a lover: physically, spiritually, with a sense of shared sentiments and mingled fates. Like him, the plants are not native to this land, but can survive.”
For a book about love, the images here do not show romantic interactions or relationships or even much in the form of social interaction; rather, they seem to speak of a deep loneliness, a longing for something that the characters themselves probably couldn’t define.
Taken out of context, it would be easy to misinterpret Muellner’s images, but when taken collectively together with the text, they paint a picture of beauty, solitude, and longing.
All images (C) Nicholas Muellner / SPBH Editions