Pavlov's Cats

Pavlov documents a drama of immigration, a sonata of contradiction between few means and a high self-image embodied in the love of music and dance

This is a photograph of a Russian-Israeli family proudly showing off its beloved and rare Hairless Sphynx cats. Family is a frequent subject for Nikita Pavlov, a clever photographer whose work is inventive and playful. This photo, which won a prize at the important Local Testimony 2010 regional photojournalism project, now showing in Tel Aviv, overflows with love for humanity, love of art and a true understanding of art.

Pavlov cats
Nikita Pavlov

In the family living room, there is music and dance and photography and movement - and one man who is engrossed in reading the booklet that accompanies a CD. This is Pavlov himself, who makes the photograph happen and takes part in it as well, responsible for it but also immersed in it. This series is called "My Friends' Families." Their world is his world.

Not only is the photographer present in the photograph; there are also allusions to consumerism and the mechanical reproduction of art. The low shelves at the bottom right hold an amplifier and several CDs; next to them sits Pavlov himself. On the lower shelf just to his left is a typewriter; the vertical metal stand holds more CDs, including one of Tom Waits; the stand also holds a small portrait, perhaps a postcard picked up in a museum; and in the left corner of the room there are three framed photographs - showing vegetables and the face of a girl in black and white. A wooden cat sits atop the picture frames, the yellow book at the far left is a guide to wine-drinking, and resting in the dark box is a decorative gourd-shaped object, perhaps a musical instrument. Perhaps something else. An ancient globe?

You can hear music in the red room when you see the wave-like movement created by the chain of arms and hands at the center: girl, cat, father, mother, cat. The triangular, sharp-chinned, expressive and intelligent face of the lovely girl, full of pride and charm as she holds the paw of the cat cradled by her father, while her mother quite fondly sniffs the back of the neck of the second cat, which pricks up its very big ears. The girl's long hair hangs loose, perhaps just for the picture; her face resembles that of her mother, who stands far from her, and she has her father's eyes. Pavlov depicts the relationships among the family members, but what won him the prize in an exhibition focusing on photojournalism is the delicacy and understanding in his approach to the socio-documentary dimension of his subject. Pavlov documents a drama of immigration, a sonata of contradiction between few means (the family's simple clothing, the peeling paint near the ceiling, the sparse furniture, the misplaced feather duster ) and the high self-image embodied in the love of music and dance, in the art, the book and the cats. This is a photograph that the Central Bureau of Statistics could never describe with all its facts and figures - the small average number of children in an immigrant family, the large number of household pets, the low average income or the investment in education rather than clothes.

Pavlov's photograph hangs in the far left corner of the Local Testimony exhibition at the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv. On the way to it, the visitor passes photographs that capture worlds that cannot be described in words, each one leading to more and more stories and intrigues, until finally he or she meets the cats' gaze. And anyone who knows cats knows they are the smartest and most insightful of animals.