Inspired by Japanese painter Katsushika Hokusai, the Russian photographer shows how two slag heaps dominate life in Degtyarsk
“The first time I was in Degtyarsk in 2012, I was mesmerised by this spectacle – a huge yellow ‘blade’ among the green trees around,” says Fyodor Telkov. “After some time, three or four trips, the idea of the project began to crystallise. I realised that these magical mountains were for me as Mount Fuji was for Hokusai.”
Telkov scooped the first edition of the Fotocanal photography book Competition, organised by the Autonomous Region of Madrid and Ediciones Anómalas, with 36 Views. In it he shows 36 views of Degtyarsk, a Russian city in Sverdlovsk Region which was once a prosperous mine town. Today it is dependent on regional subsidies, and two huge slag piles tower over it.
When the copper mines shut up shop, they left an environmental disaster behind. Liquid waste from the mines are still poisoning soil and water supply, and the waste piles release a high level of radiation. Few of the former miners are left, due to the extreme health problems caused by their work, but even so, the slag piles are viewed with affection.
“For most people in the city they are a reminder of a past prosperity,” says the Russian photographer. “They worked in these mines, or their parents did, so they give them a sense of nostalgia. For kids they are the place to play, for others they’re a visual playground.”
A symbol of the post-Soviet economy, the piles can be seen from almost any point from Degtyarsk. The photobook, printed and bounded by Ediciones Anómalas, features a map on its cover, marking the viewpoints chosen by the photographer. On the inside cover is a diagram, showing where the heaps are located.
“I shot them from several points in the city at different times of the year, trying to show life at the foot of these mountains,” says Telkov. “I was trying to figure out role they play in the citizens’ everyday life.
“Mount Fuji is sacred to the Japanese people, the piles are very important for the residents of Degtyarsk. They are still poisoning their lives, but they work as a reminder that life once was different.”