“Childhood is my main theme,” said Dagmar Hochova. “During the totalitarian regime it was one area that could be freely explored and this determined that I sought children out. It was a different era; children played on the streets, in the suburbs. One could see them everywhere.”
Little-known in the UK to this day, Hochova was famous back in Soviet-era Czechoslovakia for her photographs of children. In fact her work extended far beyond this topic but, often critical of the communist regime, much of it could not be published or exhibited until after the 1989 Velvet Revolution.
“One could easily say there’s nothing to photograph there, because it’s just like any other park,” says Latvian photographer Arnis Balcus of Victory Park. Situated in the Latvian capital Riga, Victory Park [‘Uzvaras Park’ in Latvian] was officially opened in 1910, in the presence of Tsar Nicholas II and the Mayor of Riga. But, as Balcus explains, “it is a park with a complex history”. First built to commemorate Latvian independence, the park was given its current name after the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in WWII, and as such “embodies the historical trauma of a small Baltic nation”, says Balcus. It’s famous for its Victory Monument which, at 79m high, looms over Riga’s skyline and provides a daily reminder of the controversial issue it signifies.
Born in 1991, Polish photographer Karol Palka is currently working on a PhD at the Jan Matejko Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow, which he hopes to finish in 2021. His series Edifice documents communist-era buildings in Poland and neighbouring Eastern Bloc countries. It includes shots of the Polana Hotel, once owned by the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, and the former office building for the management of the Nowa Huta Steelworks, which was once visited by Nikita Khrushchev and Fidel Castro.
On 08 December 2013, the Bessarabska Lenin statue on Taras Shevchenko Boulevard in Ukraine was demolished in the midst of the Euromaidan revolution. What followed was a wave of symbolic violence that came to be known as Leninfall [or ‘Leninopad’ by Ukrainians]. Seeking to erase all traces of the Ukraine’s Soviet past, the government launched an official decommunisation process, outlawing communist monuments. Prior to these events around 5500 statues of Lenin stood in former Soviet state; today, not one remains. Fascinated by the fate of these statues, Swiss photographer Niels Ackermann and journalist Sébastien Gobert went on a quest to find them, documenting the results in the series Looking for Lenin. Published as a book last year, the series now going on show at Espace Images, Vevey.
A white painted stone sits atop a pile of concrete from a fallen telephone pole. A seemingly random assortment of rubble, it has in fact been gathered to fasten a manhole cover in place. During a period of particular hardship in Ukraine in the 1990s, manhole covers were often stolen and sold for scrap metal, leaving dangerous open holes in the road. This makeshift device, erected over time out of miscellaneous materials, is one of the objects in Viacheslav Poliakov’s Lviv – God’s Will, a taxonomy of the “unexplored field of accidents” that make up his surrounding urban environment.
French documentary photographer Elliott Verdier’s A Shaded Path highlights the endless paradoxes of a region fossilised by its longstanding history of being forgotten. Kyrgyzstan is a peculiar place, completely landlocked by mountain ranges – a feature that has preserved its culture while simultaneously reinforcing its susceptibility to external domination. Since its official relinquishment from Soviet control in the early 1990s, the country has returned to its resting state of self-sufficient isolation. From October 2016 to February 2017, Verdier photographed Kyrgyzstan’s industrial factories, embedded in sprawling landscapes that are populated by the touching subjects in his accompanying portraits. Shortly after settling into his daily routine, the photographer began to notice a marked difference between the collective nostalgia of the country’s older and younger generations
Taking inspiration from the DIY culture of his homeland during the Soviet era, Belarusian photographer Alexey Shlyk’s series of playfully staged photographs explores craftsmanship and resourcefulness.
This year marked the 100th anniversary to the October Revolution; the Bolshevik coup lead by Vladamir Lenin that would result in the Russian Civil War (1917-22) and, ultimately, the foundation of the USSR and the communist regime that lasted until 1991. In the BJP’s latest issue, we try to understand something of the vast history of the Eastern Bloc.
Maria Gruzdeva is no stranger to remote and solitary parts of the world. Her last book, The Borders of Russia, saw her travel more than 6000km along the border of her home country, documenting the isolated communities at its edges. While shooting it she came across the near-forgotten town of Tkvarcheli, and became so intrigued it turned into a spin-off project in its own right. Her work on it has now been published as a photobook, The Song of Tkvarcheli, funded by the Gabriele Basilico International Prize in Architecture and Landscape Photography. “In the Soviet era, the region was widely known for its opulent nature, salubrious climate, seaside resorts and sanatoriums,” says Gruzdeva; Tkvarcheli was once heralded as one of the most perfectly designed towns in this feted area. “In better times, working and living in Tkvarcheli was regarded a privilege – not just by miners, but by engineers and academics as well,” she explains. “The town was created to embody a dream. An idea to create a perfect city pervaded the minds of Soviet architects …
The September issue brings the otherwise invisible into sharp focus. Invisible World explores forgotten conflicts, intimate retreats, abused landscapes and remote islands to uncover the hidden realities and unknown societies behind ordinary backdrops. “As social beings, we all demand to be seen,” says Hoda Afshar, whose latest series, Behold, takes us to an exclusive male-only bathhouse. Her point resonates with all the photoseries explored in this issue: how do we negotiate our surroundings, how do we see our societies, how do we interpret our world? We need to first see the invisible to answer these ever salient questions.