Tag Archives: Sochi

Paradise Lost: 20 Years of Independence in Abkhazia

If there is a place on earth that inspires more melancholy, reminiscence and regret than Abkhazia, I have yet to find it. A republic of sighs, home to 250,000 people who still mourn their dead as much as they plan their future.

“Do you remember how it used to be?” they say. “It was like a little Soviet Union.” This is a sweet memory, because the Soviet Union, to Abkhazia, was above all a place where dozens, even hundreds, of races lived under one roof in peace. The brutal ethnic war of ’92-’93 erased many things, but not the memory of a time before bloodshed.

This is equally bittersweet for photographer Yuri Kozyrev, who summered in nearby Sochi as a boy, and who remembers, like all children of the Soviet Union, the paradise that was Abkhazia. Imagine: high mountains dive toward a warm sea. Beaches against verdant forests, long promenades lined with ice cream vendors under palm trees.

Today marks the twentieth anniversary of Abkhazia’s first declaration of independence from Georgia. That initial gesture of July 23, 1992, was boycotted by the ethnic Georgians in government and ignored by the outside world. But soon enough, it began a cycle of attacks and reprisals, fueled by alcohol, old grudges, and the chaos of the Soviet collapse. Total war soon followed, one of the bloodiest and most fratricidal conflicts of a decade that saw plenty of both.

And though the Abkhaz people were victorious—they alone rule Abkhazia now—the republic they liberated has never quite come into being.

Kozyrev and I visited Abkhazia last year, traveling south along that fabled coastline, up into the mountains, down to the tense Georgian border in Gali. Kozyrev had been in Abkhazia during the war; it was my first visit. We were both, however, equally struck by how time just seems to stand still there. A rusting trawler lists on the beach in Sukhum, the radios in the beat up taxis all play songs about the war. In the mountain mining town of Tkvarchal, which starved and suffered under siege during the war, seems half-deserted and wholly inhospitable. Even the national pastime is a sleepy one: the Abkhaz are famous for their skill at dominoes.

Part of this torpor is forced upon them. Georgia and its allies, including the U.S., have been effective in isolating the republic, which it sees as perpetrators of ethnic cleansing against Georgians during and after the war. Only Venezuela, Nicaragua, Vanuatu and a couple of equally small states have recognized its independence. Georgia has blockaded all southern routes by sea and land, and so Abkhazia has to rely on the kindness of its neighbor and patron Russia, with whom it shares a land border.

Yet, they still have their natural gifts. The war did not erase the beaches or the mountains. Russians, particularly poorer ones who can’t afford the neon Shangri-la that Sochi is becoming, still flock to the shore.

The Abkhaz also have something they won at a heavy, heavy price: freedom. The question remains, twenty years later: what will they do with it?

Nathan Thornburgh is a TIME contributing writer and a founder of Roads & Kingdoms, a new journal of foreign correspondence, food, and photography. You can read his full report on his travels to Abkhazia with Kozyrev here.

Yuri Kozyrev is a contract photographer for TIME and was named the 2011 Photographer of the Year in the Pictures of the Year International competition.

Summer Songs of the Russian Riviera

In 2004, when photographer Rob Hornstra wanted to publish his first cohesive body of work in a book, he ran into a common problem—he couldn’t find a publisher who was willing to fund it. Hornstra’s solution was less than common: he decided to raise the initial funds himself by selling copies in advance via word of mouth and social networking. It took a month, but he succeeded. Hornstra decided to jump start the publication of his next two books the same way, with each volume of pre-orders selling out more quickly than the last. Hornstra is now on his sixth book (plus newspapers, postcards, prints and posters), and still relies primarily on his own crowdfunding efforts to fund them and their related projects. Crowdfunding and self-publishing are less rare these days, but that is thanks in part to pioneers like Hornstra whose distinctive eye and determination helped blaze the trail to get important work to receptive audiences without the backing of traditional journalistic and publishing outlets.

Hornstra’s latest book is on the restaurant singers of Russia’s favorite Black Sea resort town of Sochi. Any self-respecting restaurant on the coast has a live house singer to belt out sappy Russian chansons—take a vodka-soaked ballad and drop in a techno beat, all at full volume—from behind an electric keyboard or a laptop. Sochi is the center of the world, as far as this type of live entertainment is concerned, and Hornstra saw it as the perfect metaphor to depict the city and the region, traveling to more than 60 restaurants over 100 miles of coastline in 2011 to make the 37 photos for the book. The pictures mercifully strip away the noise of the music and cancel out the dark rooms and sharp flashing lights with Hornstra’s trademark, even lighting, allowing the viewer to patiently examine every telling detail of the interiors, including the faux Greek, French, Roman, Slavic and American décor.

Sochi Singers is in fact only the latest installment of The Sochi Project, Hornstra’s five-year commitment to exploring the region in the years leading up to the 2014 Winter Olympics Games, which Sochi will host exactly two years from this month. Partnering with writer and filmmaker Arnold van Bruggen, who wrote the essay in Sochi Singers, his goal is to paint a more complete picture of the area than the public is likely to see during those few short weeks in 2014. They have already traveled to a Soviet-era sanatorium outside of Sochi and the troubled region of Abkhazia and the Republic of Georgia, located only 13 miles along the coast to the southeast. Next month they plan to travel to the Caucasus mountains to the east, and the infamous breakaway republics of Dagestan, North Ossetia and Chechnya.

As Russia cycles into the news again next month when former president Vladimir Putin will likely be voted back into office, it is Hornstra’s commitment to “slow journalism” that allows audiences to put the headlines in context, as well as to see past the propaganda and pomp and circumstance that will inevitably surround the Winter Games. By examining the stark contrasts contained within the small region of the world, and recording both what changes—and what remains the same—Hornstra’s work reflects something deeper and more historic: Russia’s continuing search for a post-Soviet identity.

Rob Hornstra is a Dutch photographer. Learn more about the Sochi project hereThe Sochi Singers series recently won first place for the Arts and Entertainment—Stories category at the World Press Photo awards.

20 years of Savignano Immagini

Italy’s Savignano Immagini Festival (SI Fest) in the small town of Savignano sul Rubicone is celebrating its twentieth year. I’ve just spent two days at the festival and it has come a long way from its humble beginnings. Curators Massimo Sordi and Stefania Rossi have helped to turn a local photojournalism-focused festival into a far more international event that aims to keep up with contemporary photographic trends. With a Miroslav Tíchy retrospective, a clever presentation of Michael Wolf’s Tokyo Compression series, solo shows of Rob Hornstra’s Sochi project and Bernard Fuchs roads and paths, a ‘global’ group show on the theme of occupancy, and a lot more, they have put together a genuinely interesting mix of work around the theme of fragility.

Massimo Cristladi. Linosa, 2009 from the 'Suspended' series

However the stand-out exhibition for me was homegrown, an intelligent and intriguing presentation of Guido Guidi’s work on the Tomba Brion by the architect Carlo Scarpa (a book of the work has just been published  by Hatje Cantz). Guidi’s astute sequencing and analytical approach reveals the building’s extraordinary interplay with light as the sun passes through the sky. The Occupancy show was another favourite of mine; aside from the strength of the work on show, the exhibition also benefited from the space itself, a local government building from the Mussolini era covered in traces of its past life, adding another layer of occupancy in the process. The festival also has an ‘Off’ component which I didn’t have the time to explore, aside from an exhibition of Sicilian photographer Massimo Cristaldi’s latest series Suspended which presents a compelling image of the landscapes of his native island far removed from the clichés of mafia, corruption or ancient religious festivals.

The festival has put together a healthy programme of talks and discussions. Portfolio and book reviews kept me away from most of the action, but I did manage to catch Gerry Badger’s preview of the forthcoming third volume of the Badger and Parr Photobook: A History series. The book will be divided into three chapters: Propaganda, Protest and Desire and I’m sure there are many rare book dealers who are trembling in anticipation for its release (they are apparently going to have to wait until 2013).

Prints from Henk Wildschut's Shelter series

Savignano is a small festival, not on the scale of Arles or indeed Noorderlicht which opened on the same weekend. However, I think it benefits from a more human scale and If you throw in the fact that it is impossible to find a bad meal in Savignano, SI Fest is definitely worth a visit.

Exhibition of Michael Wolf's Tokyo Compression

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Photographer #288: Anna Skladmann

Anna Skladmann, 1986, Germany, is a young documentary photographer who lives and works between New York and Moscow. She focused on several projects in Russia. Recently her book Little Adults was released, a collection of portraits of priviliged children in Russia. These Russian kids belong to the “nouveau riche” and grow up surrounded by money. They are considered to become the next elite class of the post-communist country, putting pressure on them to become achievers. In a country where the gap between rich and poor is so large, it starts to raise questions about the notion of normality. Anna photographed the children that behave like little adults in their own surroundings and clothes. The following images come from her personal series Little Adults, Sochi and Portraits.


Website: www.annaskladmann.com