FOR more than two decades, a Stocksfield photographer has documented on camera the everyday life of a single family living on the edges of a post-Soviet world.

John Peter Askew’s first memories of Russia involve snow, a train swarmed by soldiers returning from the war in Chechnya, and a meal of boiled potatoes and pickled herring washed down with vodka.

At the time, he was travelling to Perm for the first time in 1996, a city which would become a very familiar sight to him in the future.

“Perm is nearly 1,500 kilometres east of Moscow by car, so it is almost another country,” said John.

“By the time you reach Perm you are almost in Asia.

“It’s just over the horizon.

“Being there, you are at the very edge of Europe and on the cusp of a different world, and it is a world which is almost never reported in the Western news media.

“It’s all but unknown to most of us, even now, when we have a 24-hour news media and billions of photographs in the world reaching us from every screen.”

It was in Perm that John met a stranger called Giorgi Chulakov, a keen amateur photographer, who sponsored the exhibition John was showing his work in, and had paid for John’s train ticket to and from Moscow.

“There wasn’t a lot of money around then, as it was only five years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, so I knew this was a significant gesture,” John said.

“It was a gesture of faith – faith in both the importance of art and in friendship.”

John and Giorgi soon became close friends, and it wasn’t long before John was welcomed with open arms into the Chulakov family which was made up of Giorgi’s wife Valya, their daughters Lyuba, Ann and Sasha, and their son Deema.

Although he had enjoyed photography since his 21st birthday, when he was gifted a a Pentax MX from his father, John said he felt especially drawn to document the new world around him in Russia on camera due to his inability to speak the native language, and as a way of immersing himself in his surroundings.

He said: “I found that by not having to think about the world in words, opened up a space for me; a freedom which I filled with looking, and it allowed me to feast my eyes on the world.”

Since his first visit to Perm, John has spent over twenty years taking still images of the Chulakovs’ domestic life, and has since compiled hundreds of photos into handmade photo-books and playful collages which he views as “tokens of love” for the family.

These images capture, and celebrate, the everyday – the clean plates around the dinner table, a child tucked up warm asleep on a sled (a common scene in a Russian winter as everywhere is blanketed in snow), a family lounging on the grass with the city peaking into the frame behind them, six eggs sizzling in a frying pan, children gathering for a snowball fight, a sixth birthday cake, a child’s wooden rocking horse and a number of beloved household pets.

From spending time with the Chulakovs, John came to realise it didn’t matter where in the world people lived, the bond which is shared amongst families is universal.

“The photos show the act of being,” he said.

“Being in the present and being together. It is an action of paying respect to people, and indeed to their things.

“I’ve learnt from my time here that we share more similarities than differences, and that is what I hope to show through these images because although Russia is so often portrayed negatively throughout the media.

“I have in all honestly found it to be a place full of beauty, friendship and warmth.

“I wanted to show the changes taking place in the country through this family, but the heart of it there were no changes. Some people were born, some died, but the family loved one another just as before.”

Giorgi and Lyuba even visited John in England, a moment which they all got to treasure before Giorgi sadly died of cancer soon after his trip.

Although he now lives in London, John still visits the Chulakov family on a regular basis, where he is treated as one of their own.

He’s been told there will always be a vacant bed in their home, a seat in the car and a plate at the table for him.

On Friday, September 20 he will be returning to his home village of Stocksfield to talk about his work and his experiences in Russia with Hexham Photography Group at the community centre.

The event is free to members, while non-members can pay on the door from 6.30pm.

A large body of John’s work, and a accompanying 380-page book called 'We, Photographs from Russia 1996 - 2017', which features comments from historians and curators, as well as John himself, will also be on display at the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art, Sunderland, until Sunday, August 18.

Copies of the 'We' can be purchased from and in a wide range of UK bookstores.