This series of photographs, of which the first three batches are here published, was meant to be much more than a wistful collection of Nabokov places in retrospective images. Soon after I had settled, around 1987, into the project in earnest I began noticing the familiar embroidery of thematic organisation that I was used to finding on the inner side of his fiction. I would, for example, place a fresh print of the staircase in the Trinity College dormitory at Cambridge, England, beside an earlier one, of the staircase at Nabokov's apartment building in Cambridge, New England, and discover their extraordinary likeness, down to the newel caps. I would miss a street turn in Berlin, in search of the address I wanted (it would later turn out to be a blank, as happens often with Berlin ante-bellum addresses), only to find myself on a railroad overpass, unmarked in my notes, where the "I," the "you," and the "he" of the last chapter of Conclusive Evidence used to linger waiting for a train to hatch from the focal point of a steeply converging vista. I would come, on a weekday morning, to a deserted cold lake situated in a famous novel and catch an episode from it as if played out for me especailly by a stout leisurely fellow in a sportsmanís attire who kept throwing into the slightly ruffled waters a big stick which his Labrador would rush to retrieve, then shake violently on the bank, and hurry right back into the lake, the stick hanging in mid-air again.

The point is not that there were many such instances; I soon came to understand that all of them were such, even though I could grasp and connect only a few. Any practised reader of Nabokov learns quickly that coincidence is little more than a silly Latinism.

The main themes of this series are, therefore, design and migration. Because of the peregrine manner of Nabokov's life the sheer number of places at which he lived defies credulity; and if a peregrine photographer adds to his list significant sites from Nabokov's books, he will find himself staring at an equivalent of Joyce's Dublin (splendidly photographed by Delaney, by the way), but sprawling over both hemispheres.

I did not visit them all; the red line was not to be crossed, and even the picture of Nabokov's mother's grave in Prague was taken for me by an obliging student. But the sights that have been captured are curiously attachable, sometimes almost miraculously so, and if one examines them in certain thematic arrangements (not necessarily chronological), one is taken by the selfsame sensation of sharp strong sadness blended with stoical vigor and spirited by a gentle smile that Nabokov's novels invariably produce.

1. The Graveyards (7 images)
2. Paris (9 images)
3. Cambridge, Mass. (6 images)
These photographs are all copyright © 1995 by Gennady Barabtarlo and are protected by standard copyright laws that prohibit reproduction without the expressed written consent of the photographer. Visitors to Zembla wishing to acquire any of the images published here should write to the photographer at gragb@showme.missouri.edu stating the image's title, number and desired size. Most images are available in either color or grayscale (although the two may not be identical), and they will be custom-made and signed by the photographer. Price list upon request.


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