WHITE NIGHTS. Russia After the Gulag.
December 13, 2008 8:00 AM   Subscribe

 
His other sets of photos are also quite good. Soviet Execution Sites is pretty haunting.
posted by chunking express at 8:01 AM on December 13, 2008


I find these uncomfortable. Not that they're violent or "graphic," but rather that they're not. Seeing scenes of horror as real places makes it worse; the last picture in the "Soviet Execution Sites" set looks like a vista from southern Appalachia, where I grew up.
posted by sonic meat machine at 8:07 AM on December 13, 2008


Great pics, congratulations!
posted by Leo Golan at 8:13 AM on December 13, 2008


awesome. humbling. visionary. beans to think about
posted by infini at 8:21 AM on December 13, 2008


Wow, these are gorgeous. Thanks so much for posting this.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:52 AM on December 13, 2008


Weber, Marcus Bleasdale and Ron Haviv produced and incredible body of work from the Russia - Georgia war recently. The body of work is hanging in the VII gallery in Dumbo and is worth checking out if you're in the neighborhood. Weber is also a hell of a nice guy.
posted by photoslob at 9:08 AM on December 13, 2008


Wow - almost makes me want to throw away my camera.
posted by twsf at 11:00 AM on December 13, 2008


They're great pictures, but it really annoys me that there's no explanation. It's impossible to figure out what most of them have to do with the Gulag. Oh, there's two women looking at a religious painting: what does that have to do with anything? If you're documenting the Gulag, shouldn't you be providing information along with the pretty pictures?
posted by languagehat at 12:25 PM on December 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Agreeing with languagehat about the need for explanations.

Knowing the images are about the gulags is intense. The second link, Soviet Execution Sites is seriously haunting. More than haunting. Holy shit, what a grotesque nightmare! It's so important these stories are told and remembered, known, that the behavior and social impact of malignant narcissists, like Stalin, can be examined. Stalin's gulags ended not that long ago.

Monstrosities are still happening all over the world and some our American tax dollars are paying for, US gulags.
posted by nickyskye at 1:11 PM on December 13, 2008


Those were fantastic.
Thanks to languagehat for providing a much needed laugh after that gloom.
posted by Stonestock Relentless at 1:12 PM on December 13, 2008


Fantastic stuff. Like languagehat, I wish there were captions.
posted by jeeves at 2:19 PM on December 13, 2008


There is a bit more information about the pictures (and other projects) to be found when you browse through his images on PhotoShelter.

The execution photographs are particularly notable for the ordinariness of the scenes... a good reminder that evil can take place anywhere, in the most banal of places.
posted by jokeefe at 2:44 PM on December 13, 2008


Also, this is the link for all his collections-- there's some amazing (and varied) photographic sets there.
posted by jokeefe at 2:47 PM on December 13, 2008


I think—the presentation is unclear, but I think—the point of the first set is that everything has to do with Gulag. Everybody knew a zek. Most people were related to one. No one spoke of it save in whispers, but there's not a thing, from the golden domes of the churches to the steel rails of the Metro to the silent thoughts that an old woman will never speak, that doesn't in some way bear its imprint.

The series Soviet Execution Sites just crushes me, though. Many of the placenames given at the start are familiar to me: Not faraway islands of death amid the Siberian wastes, but unassuming towns and cities in pleasant western Ukraine. Places I've been all around and sometimes through, savoring their depth of history and their summer sweetness and their winter austerity. Those lands' cold-weather beauties are every bit as subtle and as striking as in the photos, but their histories are also just as sorrowful. Where is a meter of earth unmarked by blood? No one can say. No one knows.
posted by eritain at 3:35 PM on December 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


I totally disagree with languagehat. The photographs are better without captions. You know the set is about the Gulag based on its title. Keeping things ambiguous is far more interesting then having little blurbs like, "Olga and Mary's parents were killed in the Gulag. They work in a bakery now." You can get a copy of national geographic if you need to know exactly what's going on I suppose.
posted by chunking express at 5:25 PM on December 13, 2008


I can't help but think that the Soviet Executions Sites photos would have an entirely different feel had they been shot on sunny days. He definitely picked the right weather to evoke a somber mood, but it somehow feels a little bit forced.

Still, the photos are gorgeous and truly moving.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 10:18 AM on December 14, 2008


I think—the presentation is unclear, but I think—the point of the first set is that everything has to do with Gulag.

That may well be, in which case I think it's a stupid idea. (Why not extend it further and say every human being is somehow involved, and just have pictures from all over?) But hey, they're nice photos, and I guess the Gulag is as good an excuse as any.

I totally disagree with languagehat. The photographs are better without captions. You know the set is about the Gulag based on its title. Keeping things ambiguous is far more interesting then having little blurbs

Well, I totally disagree with you; I guess we'll have to agree to totally disagree. I think reality is more interesting than ambiguity.
posted by languagehat at 11:59 AM on December 14, 2008


I can't help but think that the Soviet Executions Sites photos would have an entirely different feel had they been shot on sunny days.

I walked the grounds of Babi Yar (one hundred thousand killed by Nazis) on a beautiful, clear summer's morning. That was almost surreal: Tracing the quiet, bright forest, passing locals on their morning walk, pausing to breakfast on a chunk of plum cake, searching for a ravine full of bones.

I didn't know, but it's more or less gone; the Soviets allowed it to flood and silt up.

(Why not extend it further and say every human being is somehow involved, and just have pictures from all over?)

Probably every human being, by now, has been directly or indirectly affected. But everyone in Russia has been absolutely entwined, and I think that's worth recognizing.

Nonetheless, I'd like to see some explanation too. Particulars increase interest and impact. It's one thing to meet a woman I knew in Kiev, and say that she's somehow connected to the prison camps. It's another think to learn why she does not know, and will likely never know, her father's birth name.

He brought his wife and infant son from their village near Moscow, intending to leave there both his name and his history in a non-Bolshevik political movement. He succeeded in leaving the name; the history, and the authorities, eventually caught up with him. He was disappeared. Inexplicably, so was his eighteen-year-old son. Later the Third Reich forcibly moved his wife and daughters to Germany to work in a factory, losing them any personal effects that might have hinted at his origins: At war's end they laboriously sneaked back into the Soviet Union, to find that the government had given their apartment to someone else. Now they would spend decades under suspicion as German collaborators, hardly an opportune position to inquire into Dad's questionable past. By the time it was safe to ask, those who might know were dying or dead. How much would your or my identity change, with everything before Dad's young adulthood blanked?

This is not a very unusual story. But it surely is more pointed than just a recital of historical generalities. Captions on these photos would sharpen them also.
posted by eritain at 12:25 PM on December 16, 2008


s/another think/another thing/

Sigh ... blame it on Russian final devoicing.
posted by eritain at 12:26 PM on December 16, 2008


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