The reasons why I find this series interesting 10 years after it was made go beyond the fact that I am 1/4 Moldavian, that I am interested in the Caucasus and in Central Asia, and that photographer Jonas Bendiksen traveled to every single place I want to travel to sometime soon. It is actually about how these photos manage to capture the feel that all these very different places have in common, the feeling of a shared soviet past. It’s also about a certain awkwardness I am familiar with, an awkwardness he seems to have looked for in all the obscure corners. And about the fact that 10 years later, some of these places are less unstable than back then, and yet, not much has changed. ‘Many of these places are quaintly obscure, but as I came to discover, they offer stark proof that the breakup of the Soviet Union is still a work in progress’ said Bendiksen long ago. And 10 years later it still is work in progress.
Jonas Bendiksen is a Norwegian photographer and between 1998 and 2005 he traveled around the ‘separatist republics in the former USSR’. That means the Caucasus region – he has many photos of Moldova, which is not really Caucasus but still there; and many photos of Abkhazia, which was back then still part of Georgia and I personally find very interesting, see this photo series and Domino Effect doc here – going all the way through Russia and Central Asia. The photos he took in that period have been published in this amazing book called Satellites (that you can look through).
GEORGIA. Abkhazia. 2005. With its lush Black Sea location, Abkhazia is trying to attract Russian tourists. Here, at a road stop on the tour bus route, an entrepreneur, who charges tourists 10 rubles to photograph his bear, catches his breath between busloads. (See this post for more information about Abkhazia and its resorts).
GEORGIA. Abkhazia. Sukhum. 2005. Although Abkhazia is isolated, half-abandoned and still suffering war wounds due to its unrecognized status, both locals and Russian tourists are drawn to the warm waters of the Black Sea. This unrecognized country, on a lush stretch of Black Sea coast, won its independence from the former Soviet republic of Georgia after a fierce war in 1993.
GEORGIA. Abkhazia. Sukhum. 2005. Babushka “Tanya,” an elderly ethnic Russian woman, heads back to her bombed out apartment building after walking her dog. Despite the damages, three apartments remain occupied in the building.
MOLDOVA. Transdniester. 2004. Steel mill. Despite the nationalist rethoric of the breakaway war with Moldova in 1992, critics of Transdniester see their quest for independence as a power grab by factory chiefs and economic elite of the region. Nearly all of Moldova’s heavy industry was located in the Transdniester region, and Transdniestrian independence is catastrophic for Moldova.
MOLDOVA. Transdniester. 2004. The population of Transdniester is mainly ethnic Russians, and the main religion is Russian Orthodox Christianity. Here a priest gives his blessings before a christening in the icy waters of January.
MOLDOVA. Transdniester. 2004. People attending a church-run soup kitchen. Most Transdniestrians are poor, and a large portion of the population are pensioneers longing for the better times of the USSR.
MOLDOVA. Transdniesterian deputy minister of defense looking lovingly at an Alazan missile in front of a scene from 1992 breakaway war with Moldova. The Alazan missile has been in the media’s focus as of late, with a Washington Post article accusing Transdniester of lacing the small missiles with nuclear dirty bomb warheads, something the government strongly denies. 2004.
RUSSIA. Birobidzhan, The Jewish Autonomous Region. 1999. The first Jewish homeland of modern time, created 20 years before Israel, located in Far-East Siberia. People waiting for the morning bus in the freezing winter, which often reaches -40 Celcius.
All images © Jonas Bendiksen
All photo captures from here.