Jessica Backhaus

Country Life

In West Pomerania, a two-hour drive east of Stettin, lies the village of Netno. Shortly after the fall of socialism and the opening of the borders, the Backhaus family bought an old country house there. Beginning in 2000, Jessica Backhaus spent many summer months there with her mother, discovering the area on long walks, making friends with the local people, and taking photographs. Over the years, she shot about 300 photos for the project and selected 94 of those images to present in the book she called “Jesus and the Cherries”.

“À la recherche du temps perdu” would have been another fitting title for the series, for prevailing values in the country have always been more conservative than in the cities, beliefs are entrenched more deeply, people are more serious and closer to their roots, changes come slowly, the past is more tangible. Jessica Backhaus documents a country life that to us children of Western civilization must seem like an idyll, a pastoral setting suspended in time.

Is everything still intact there? The attitudes of the people of West Pomerania derive from their religion and their close relationship with nature. Jessica Backhaus took photos of many interiors: There is no wall without a sacred image, and the cherries are preserved by the woman of the house. Here, a fridge is a status symbol, thus taking pride of place in the living room rather than the kitchen. Flowery wallpaper and antlers decorate the walls, the crocheted tablecloths are homemade, and no house would be complete without a picture of the Polish pope John Paul II. Apart from the interiors, which are almost always devoid of people, Jessica Backhaus shows portraits: authentic, modest people, in harmony with their surroundings and themselves.

However, the idyll has begun to crumble in some places. Clothing, for example, signals a latent conflict between the generations: While the young people are going for Western style, the older generation still prefers traditional dress. An adolescent’s room plastered with posters of pop stars indicates the direction in which things are heading: At some point, the crocheted tablecloths and crucifixes will disappear, and the cherries will be bought in jars at the supermarket. Only the ancient farmlands of West Pomerania, visible in a few of the pictures, seem to radiate an air of almost sacrosanct sublimity.

Biographical information

1970

born in Cuxhaven, Germany

1986

she moved to Paris, where she spent the next eight years studying photography and visual communications and working as a picture editor

1995

she moved to New York, where she started assisting different photographers

lives and works in Europe and in the United States