Topography of the present
In 1991, Boris Yelzin and representatives of the other Soviet republics signed and sealed the break-up of the Soviet Union. Many photographers have since addressed the disintegration of the super power and its consequences, including the Ukrainian Boris Mikhailov with his shocking photos of the dark side of the change and those who suffer most in the population.
When the Soviet Union collapsed, Simon Roberts was only 16 years old; 13 years later, the British photographer resolved to commit himself to a mammoth project that addressed present life in Russia. “I was not interested in the turbulent past, but in the prospects for the future,” he states. The time that had passed and his cultural distance to the political events in Russia afforded Simon Roberts an unbiased view of the country and its people: “My goal was to take stock of modern Russia,” he narrates, and that took time, more than a year in fact. Together with his wife, he spent the period from July 2004 to August 2005 in Russia, extending his visa every three months, constantly searching for unknown regions far away from the major conurbations, “because there’s far more to Russia than just Moscow and St. Petersburg,” and once there, photographing the local people.
Russia, that “large and mysterious country”, has forever fascinated Simon Roberts, who once studied geography. To explore it, he took a topographical approach: Traveling from the East, he moved through Siberia to the northern Caucasus and then along the Volga. The photo book that testifies to the project includes a map showing the places where the photographs were taken. Simon Roberts stayed with local people, immersed himself in their everyday lives: “I was a permanent outside witness to their lives,” he recalls. Only thus was he able to create his sensitive and authentic shots, not to mention his good eye and strong sense for the right photographic moment. Simon Roberts offers us harmonious photos of Russia in which he marvelously blends composition and colour.
Simon Roberts calls his Russia project, which includes 153 images, “Motherland” – and the title shows just how much at home he felt in that foreign land. “Motherland” is a series of photos of the inhabitants of Russia, on the vast expanse that they populate – and an homage to the country. “I traveled a total of 75,000 kilometers and by no means saw everything – but I left Russia with a good feeling.”
Image: Nikita Kruktunov and Rufina Muharanova, Omsk, May 2005, 102 x 76 cm