I reached photographer Xenia Nikolskaya in Moscow while she was on an assignment for her new job as director for education and exhibition projects at Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency. She gamely answered questions from her iPad while on a break, but the topic was far from mid-winter Moscow. It was, instead, about her extraordinary book DUST: Egypt’s Forgotten Architecture. The book documents the abandoned palaces and salons of an Egypt you don’t often see in the headlines: the golden age of Cairene opulence.
But Nikolskaya’s interiors, shot from Esna in the south to Port Said in the northeast, largely with an old Horseman 6×9 camera, say as much about the decay of modern Egypt as about the luster of the country’s early years. Nasser may have kicked the wealthy owners of these mansions out of Egypt, but it was Mubarak who oversaw the political and financial rot that allowed a country to let its own history fall into such disrepair. And Mohamed Morsi’s new government doesn’t seem to value its cultural patrimony any more than its predecessors.
An exhibition of Nikolskaya’s work opened this weekend at the Medelhavsmuseet in Stockholm. If you, like me, won’t be making it to Sweden in the next little while, you might instead enjoy this (slightly) edited version of our conversation.