Irina Popova

If You Have a Secret

Irina Popova is Russian / Dutch photographer, writer and curator with special interest in the subjects of privacy, sincerity and marginality. She works with a combination of the mediums; non-linear multi-focal storytelling, internet & new media, books and installations.

Born in 1986 in Tver, Russia, Popova started to work as a journalist at the age of 16 in the local newspapers and magazines, and made photos for her articles. Since then, she has gained a remarkable reputation for her intimate collections of photo-stories.

Popova became scandalously famous for her project “Another Family”, where she told a personal story of a drug-addicted couple with a little daughter. The viewers questioned if the story was staged and also the future of the girl in these circumstances. Someone wrote to the police and the investigation started. The artist refused to give away the address of the family, so the family couldn’t be reached. Once more, this story raised questions about the professional ethics of photojournalism.

“If You Have a Secret” tells the stories of her native land, edited from thousands of images, and seven years of photographic life.


As children we used to play a game called “Secrets”. To hide something, to bury it under the ground: a flower, a leaf, a wrapper of a sweet under a glass. And it would become a secret, something important and wonderful.

The earth means connection to the land, your only visible image of the Motherland. In 2009 I left Russia, and since then I look for this image. To tell you a story of my native land, I came back to my archives. Hundreds of thousands of images, seven years of photographic life, the incredibly personal stories formed together this book.

No sentimentalty towards the Motherland. Absolutely none. All what is left from the Motherland – no official ideology, no patriotism, just the sandy, dirty, dry, unfriendly, unfruitful soil

This book is a symbol of an endless country, a story of a person of “the lost generation” – between the ruined Soviet Union, chaos of the nineteens and development of a new authoritarian unit.

Sometimes this book makes you laugh, sometimes it makes you cry. You feel at the same time the unbearable pain and highest joy. It is this combination of the complicated, the uncontrollable and the absurd, which we call “the mysterious Russian soul”.

Berlin, Bears and Refugees