“It’s 16 June 2009, the BA0882 lands at 3:05 p.m. on Ukrainian soil and takes me for my first trip to the land of the Slavs and to the birthplace of Milla Jovovitch, the pretty redhead of The Fifth Element.” This is how the journal-like text in “Ekaterina” begins, as photographer Romain Mader travels to Ukraine, photographing an imaginary search for a girlfriend.
His intention is to use humor to explore themes of gender, romance and loneliness, while using himself as the protagonist. It’s “too easy to mock people. It’s better to pose myself and be the main character,” Mader said in an interview. “This way, there is irony and vulnerability.”
Mader’s pursuit is illustrated by awkward portraits with mail-order brides, scenes of Ukraine and his return home to Switzerland. In one of the fictional towns, he discovers the women are all named “Ekaterina.” In the book he writes:
“Once again I meet a woman called Ekaterina, and I realize it’s the only first name that is officially used in this town. All the Ekaterinas here are ravishing and intelligent.”
His final Ekaterina comes to Switzerland and accepts Mader’s marriage proposal at the foot of the Matterhorn.
The book and subsequent video leave it unclear whether the journey led to actual marriage. Mader told In Sight: “I play with reality and fiction in my work. My idea was to make a documentary about sex tourism in Ukraine. Since many well-done documentaries had already been done on that matter, I decided to do a fiction and include myself in the story. I play with the aesthetics of documentary photography in it.”
The series from the book is currently part of the Tate modern exhibition Performing for the Camera.