Monumental Landscapes at Human Scale
Soviet Seasons by Arseniy Kotov
In his first book Soviet Cities: Labour Life Leisure, Arseniy Kotov, who many know on Instagram as @Northern.Friend, took us along for one of his mammoth journeys. Image by image, with each turn of the page, he introduced us to a Russia we may not otherwise have seen. Sometimes we can become too used to seeing the same examples of monumental architecture from a fallen regime – but what Soviet Cities has done is remind us of the huge pride that went into the building of a new world albeit on the wreck of so many lives. While the regime didn’t last – what was laid down set the foundations for thousands of Russian Cities.
And now part two, Soviet Seasons, has been published by Fuel and stocked by Greyscape.
We asked Arseniy Kotov about the new project;
What can we expect to see in Soviet Seasons?
In my first book, Soviet Cities, I mostly focused on architecture, urban planning and city landscapes. In Soviet Seasons I plan to reveal unfamiliar aspects of the post-Soviet terrain. From snow-blanketed Siberia in winter to the mountains of the Caucasus in summer, these images show how a once powerful, utopian landscape has been affected by the weight of nature itself.
How does Soviet Seasons work, is it part-two of Soviet Cities?
This is planned as an ‘alongside’ book; the focus is different. Here there will be the sense of change of season (which in Russia can mean extreme changes), the cities, the people and the impact of nature. When I was researching and photographing for Soviet Cities I visited what would have been considered the most ‘important’ cities, the capitals of post-Soviet states. This time, I will feature less familiar places and less accessible places such as Norilsk, Siberia and the Caucasus. These locations won’t always have the finest example of architecture. Nevertheless, they are still very interesting because of the distinctive lifestyle and character of the locals and the surreal combination of the buildings and wild natural landscapes.
Was it difficult to choose which places to feature and which to leave out?
It really came together organically, taking the Caucasus as an example, I’m a big fan of hiking and mountaineering, every summer I visit a different part of the Caucasus mountains; I already had more than five years worth of photos.
When I choose a location I am not just looking at its natural beauty, but also what makes a city or village distinctive. Sometimes I do have a pre-conceived idea of what I hope to see. When I visited Pripyat in Ukraine, I wanted to capture a ghost-town covered in golden-leaved trees. That visit expanded into featuring other Ukrainian cities.
“I chose wintertime to visit Siberia. I hitchhiked from Mongolia to Moscow, taking in the most important Siberian cities on route. Last winter I lived for a month and a half in Norilsk, one of the coldest and most snowy cities on the planet”.
When the pandemic changed my plans in the spring (of 2020) I took the opportunity to spend time in my home region, Central Russia, where it was easier to travel without coronavirus limitations.
When we think of Siberia it’s almost as much a concept as a place – what is it really like?
It is still mostly wild, there are thousands of kilometres in the north without any sign of life.
‘There will be many photographs from Norilsk, which is in the far north – it was my longest and most in-depth adventure to live for a lengthy period in this city. I worked as a builder on a construction site for two weeks which was a unique experience’.
I focused on the most populated and industrially powerful cities, which are located on the Trans-Siberian railroad to the south of the region. The book will feature photographs from Novosibirsk, Omsk, Krasnoyarsk, Bratsk, Angarsk as well as other cities.
Having travelled so widely what sense do you get about pollution?
Modern Russian industry looks to be in a deep crisis, many factories built during the Soviet-era are now either abandoned or demolished. There are some factories which continue to pollute the air and water. This has led to some emergency situations. It was not long ago that in Norilsk, a CHPP-3 a tank containing about 21 thousand tons of diesel fuel began to leak. ( The rivers around it became seriously polluted and it was declared a federal incident.) However, I do believe many cities don’t have pollution problems.
What image do you think best captures the Russian spirit? Is it best seen in the winter with deep snow and plummeting temperatures? Your photos often seem to feature snow.
For almost six months of the year, the Russian territory is snow-covered. For me, winter is the most beautiful time to take photographs, because of the diffused light from a cloudy sky and all the white surfaces, without any extra details. It creates an impression which is both beautiful and mysterious.
You have a wonderful photo of Kemerovo where both buildings and the weather has rendered ‘man’ a tiny speck.
I took this photograph on the edge of Kemerovo city in Shalgotaryan district which was built by Bulgarian builders who came to Kemerovo for the Mutual Economic Assistance Union. I waited for the proper twilight time to take the photographs from a new highrise nearby. I waited patiently and the moment came when I saw a group of people. It was one of those lucky shots.
The Caucasus has such incredible history – what should we, the observer of your photos, look for in comparison with Siberia or the Urals for example?
The people who live in the Caucasus are strikingly different from the people in any other post-Soviet regions. The place was historically a crossroad of nations with high-altitude valleys and gorges. It was the site of many historic battles. Today the cities are filled with Soviet-style high rises. What is so unusual is that the same region also has huge wooded mountains – always seen beyond any of the cities. I like this kind of photography very much.
All photos the copyright of Arseniy Kotov ©
Greyscape is delighted to carry Fuel Publishing titles:
Holidays in a Soviet Sanitorium
Chernobyl: A stalkers guide
Soviet signs and relics