Danila Tkachenko, a Russian photographer aged 27, has earned a couple accolades already (the ever-insightful Arlesians of Voies Off awarded him in 2015). He produces white photographs: white as snow, fog, blizzard… and disappearance. In this opaque whiteness (unfortunately tinted yellow by the lighting at the Méjan), black and grey shapes emerge progressively from indistinction (with traces of color, here and there, from a rusted pipe or a red and white fence). There are no traces of life, neither human nor animal ones, no footprints, no smoke plumes; only a stunted tree stands in the midst of a barren mineral landscape, absolute and pure in its whiteness.
Depicting such nothingness reveals another process of disappearance, which resulted in secret ruins of forgotten, hidden, forbidden sites. Tkachenko has been looking all over the territory of the former Soviet Union for structures that have fallen out of memory, in areas that were closed off for a long time, absent from maps and speeches, sacrificed to a merciless Cold War. When we manage, despite the snow and wind occulting the view, to make sense of the shapes, we see radars, antennas, bunkers, rocket debris… And also the largest diesel submarine in the word, reminiscent of a beached whale; the refloated wreck of the Bulgaria, where 122 people died in complete secrecy; or the traces of the 1957 Kyshtym nuclear disaster that was kept secret too, the city still being off-limits today.
Everything is in ruins: memory itself has been frozen deep under interdictions. Here and there, a monument to cosmonauts or heroic workers feebly emerges from the fog, almost pathetic. The utopian belief in progress and technology is dead and buried.
These Communist Party headquarters have become nothing more than an abandoned bunker despite their bold intergalactic architecture. To conclude, there have been lots of interesting photographic works on the fall of the USSR and the ruins of Communism, but Danila Tkachenko’s is the first, in my opinion, to succeed in reflecting this end-of-a-world dereliction through such definitive and dramatic images.
Photo 1 by Lunettes Rouges (so as to show the cumbersome yellow lighting), all others taken from D. Tkachenko’s website.
Original publication date by Lunettes Rouges: July 13, 2016.
Translation by Lucas Faugère