In Russia, people have a lot of prejudice toward people with mental disorders. They are not considered full-fledged people with abilities to learn and socialize, they stay unemployed. But there is a place, where everything is different. Where trust and respect for each other is a core of a community. Svetlana is a unique social village in Russia, Leningrad Oblast. This village gives an opportunity to people with different mental disorders to live free and be supported by tutors and volunteers. This place is not a boarding school or a clinic. No one is controlled and the doors are always opened. Diagnoses are not discussed; residents are not classified as healthy or unhealthy, normal or abnormal. They are all individuals, working to their potential. Residents believe in the person you can become in spite of your past. Svetlana is a community of nearly 35 residents. They live in four large houses, have a garden, a farm, a bakery, a carpentry etc. Villagers are served five meals a day, visit sauna on weekends and do the plays on holidays. People with special needs are free to go out, work, have friends and fall in love. They can realize themselves in any employment or creative activities. For example, at first some residents could not even hold a spoon, but now bake bread for all the inhabitants of the village or get engaged in the performances.

Mary Gelman is a VII Photo Agency Member photographer based in Saint-Petersburg, Russia. In 2016 she graduated from School of Modern Photography in Saint Petersburg and participated in various international and local workshops. Mary works as a photojournalist and teacher. The most important part of her professional life are her personal projects. The artist explores the larger world through close personal narratives. She focuses on a study of issues of gender and body, boundary and identity, discrimination and the human relationship with the environment. Mary has been a winner of different competitions. She’s the recipient of the Leica Oskar Barnack Award, Portraits – Hellerau Photography Award, Istanbul Photo Awards and Andrei Stenin International Photo Contest. 

Mary Gelman (RU) "Svetlana" - Helphoto 2020
Mary Gelman (RU) "Svetlana" - Helphoto 2020