Author Archives: Javier Sirvent

Irina Ruppert: Tracing Memories in Kazakhstan

Eastern Europe has become a popular destination for photographers looking for interesting stories in an exotic and new landscape. The antecedents to this trend range from Jonas Bendiksen’s documentation of spaceship junkyards and scrap-metal dealers to Robert Polidori’s large scale images of desolation and despair. Today, these areas serve as a main destination for young photographers—but, among the hundreds of projects produced in the area, only a couple come from a personal and individual point of view.

Irina Ruppert’s intimate knowledge of Kazakhstan and Eastern Europe comes from an experience of emigration and a complex family history. She moved at the age of 7 with her parents and three siblings from Kazakhstan to Germany in 1976, leaving four other siblings behind, carrying intense and vivid memories of her hometown and everyday life in the villages. After the collapse of the USSR in 1993, Ruppert started traveling back home, where she encountered a place full of political change but the same spirit and feelings she remembered from her childhood.

From 2006 to 2010 she photographed different locations in Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, Poland and Kazakhstan. She was most impressed with her hometown and the changes it had gone through since the end of socialism. “It seemed that everything that had to do with the Russian past had been wiped out from one day to the other,” she says. “The Cyrillic alphabet and Russian language were gone. Old Russian statues of Lenin and Stalin were given long beards and their names were changed to those of Kazakh personalities.”

When Ruppert describes her travels in Eastern Europe, she notes feeling immersed in the experience and always feeling at home. “I can smell the food and see that the colors and landscapes are very different from Germany. People’s behaviors are very familiar to me,” she explains. “When I get on a bus and there’s only one person sitting inside, I always sit next. I never take the last seat alone in the back. People in the East are extreme in their feelings and actions; it’s always about being together. I usually travel alone but in the East, you are never alone.”

The work she produced was compiled into a book called Rodina, published in 2011 by Peperoni Books in Germany. Each individual picture in the book displays a different mood and atmosphere; it is the travel diary of a child in self-recognition, immersed in a sea of images. “I want to show my view of the East: a small world of a detached observer who is not judgmental or tendentious.”

Irina Ruppert

Research for upcoming project about Roma people

Nowadays Ruppert travels looking for wolf tracks coming from Eastern Europe into East Germany as part of a new photographic project. She has also recently received a grant from the VG Bild-Kunst to photograph the Roma people in Romania, a series that she will work on this coming summer. A research photograph from that project, which has not yet begun in earnest, is included at right.

Irina Ruppert is a Hamburg-based photographer. More of her work can be seen here. Her book Rodina, is available in the Kominek Gallery in Berlin.

Little Europe on the Outskirts of Shanghai

Spanish photographer Pablo Conejo traveled to China to document the rapid—and, he thought, almost unsustainable—development of a country full of contradictions, the result of Chinese culture confronting global trends. Before his trip, he made a list of opposite concepts to accompany him as an inspiration: east and west, poverty and wealth, communism and capitalism and tradition and modernity were all ideas that served as guides in the photographer’s anthropological excursion. In Shanghai, he saw yet another contradiction.

Conejo found himself immersed in a futuristic urban landscape, a skyline overloaded with concrete and glass above the smell and feel of the stereotypical China he expected to find, one that he describes as a “tangle of motorcycles, cars, people and noise; a mix of intense food smell from stalls and kitchens, car fumes and a murmur from all this bustle; all this jumble peppered with red lanterns and fortune cats.” Then, as he reached the borders of the city he found a peculiar urban project: a set of nine suburban neighborhoods under construction, mimicking the architectural styles of several iconic European countries, including France, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Holland and Germany. Built to house the wealthier Chinese population escaping the big-city lifestyle, “One City, Nine Towns” is a thematic urban project launched in 2004 with the goal of relieving overpopulation in Shanghai. These artificial towns, which are replicas of buildings found in the various European locales, are projected to house one million people by 2020.

“At the moment all the towns look like ghost cities,” Conejo says. “The empty streets make them look like Disney World or a cinema set. As a matter of fact, Thames Town, the English imitation, is becoming a very popular location to have one’s wedding photography made.” Despite their popularity among locals, Conejo realized that some people weren’t familiar with the original inspirations of these model homes. In the Paris neighborhood, the photographer asked three teenagers if they knew anything about the French capital. “Paris?” one asked. “I don’t know.”

Pablo Conejo, who was born in Madrid in 1981, ran two urban photography workshops in Instituto Europeo di Design in Barcelona in 2008 and 2009. You can see more of his work here.