During the winter months in Kazakhstan’s capital city, Astana, fishermen park up on the frozen Ishim river, hoping for a bite beneath the ice. The tradition goes back for generations, back to when Astana was a small rural farming village, not the high-rise, futuristic city it is today.
When the country was part of the Soviet Union, fishing equipment was standardised and sold only at government-run hunting shops. But since the collapse of the USSR in 1991, the fishermen have been constructing their own customised fishing tents, sewn together out of plastic packaging found in the city’s markets.
Aleksey Kondratyev’s new book, Ice Fishers, examines the use of this salvaged material, mostly originally used to import Western, Chinese, and Russian goods, as a means of protection against the harsh weather conditions. Kondratyev, who has lived in America for most of his life, but is originally from Kyrgyzstan, first saw the fishermen when he travelling through Central Asia in 2015 for his project Formations. “I wasn’t sure what they were, but as I got closer I could make out what was going on,” he says.
Stakle recently won the New East Photo Prize organised by Calvert 22 Foundation, with a series titled Heavy Waters. Shot in Crimea in 2011, the series shows towns and villages scattered along the coast on the Crimean Peninsula – an area that was at the time part of Ukraine, but which became part of Russia after the Ukraine-Russia crisis in 2014. To date, Crimea remains an internationally unrecognised part of Russia. Crimea was one of the most popular resorts of the Soviet Union but, says Stakle, “being on the crossroads of trade routes has always been risky”. “Since times immemorial, the Crimean Peninsula has been coveted by different countries, near and far,” he writes in his introduction to the series.
It’s a spectacularly beautiful early morning in December and the traffic is rolling past indifferently on one of North London’s less than silent streets. I’m standing in front of a large red door, having come to visit David King and his world-famous collection documenting the extraordinary visual history of the Soviet Union. King has been assembling the collection for almost five decades and now it is in the process of being transferred to the archives of Tate Modern. The collection has always run in parallel to his work as a graphic designer, photographer and author – work, it is fair to say, that shows influence from the Bolshevik-era material he has discovered on his many visits to the former USSR, and which he has often drawn from in his books, posters, photographs and graphic work.
Jens Olof Lasthein, a Swedish-born photographer brought up in Denmark, has spent much of his career travelling around the European hinterlands, where international boundaries have been shifting for centuries. His new book, Meanwhile Across the Mountain, published by Max Ström, is a stunning survey of the Caucasus – the part of southeastern Europe that used to belong to the Soviet Union, but is now a collection of sovereign states and breakaway regions such as South Ossetia, Dagestan and Chechnya.
At 11.41pm on 07 December 1988, a cold and snowy day, Armenia was struck by a 7 degree Richter earthquake. Some 25,000 people died and a further 514,000 were made homeless; the city of Spitak was worst affected, with a third of the population killed and all but one of its buildings destroyed. Since then very little has changed in Armenia, but the political landscape around it has been entirely reshaped. The USSR collapsed just a few years after the earthquake in 1991, with the disaster coming to symbolise its failure when Mikhail Gorbachev was forced to call for international aid to handle it. In Spitak the USA and Germany built small wooden houses for those who had been displaced, and the Soviet government promised more permanent homes would follow within two years. In 2013, when Michal Luczak visited, people were still living in the huts. The Polish photographer decided to delve deeper with a documentary project, and was soon joined by the writer Filip Springer. “We don’t ask about that day. They don’t talk,” they write in their resulting …
For the thousands of migrants entering Europe, the journey of making a home in a foreign place has just begun. The work of Aikaterini Gegisian, 38, is especially relevant for those of such placelessness. Her surreal multi-national collages form a seven-chapter narrative in her 2015 book A Small Guide to the Invisible Seas. Gegisian was one of 18 artists to exhibit in the Armenian pavilion at the Venice Biennale this year, which won the Golden Lion at the Biennale’s awards for Best Country. The exhibition, Armenity, is set apart from the main body of the art festival, on an island called San Lazzaro degli Armeni, a 20-minute boat from the mainland across the lagoon. Its distance from the bustle of Venice neatly reflects the exhibition’s theme of a diasporic people – those who have been forcibly moved from, or have had to flee, their original homeland and scattered across the globe. Being situated in the island, inside a monastery, compounds the exhibition’s overriding sense of being adrift. In the Middle Ages, the Mekhitarist Monastery …