Tag Archive: russia


Book recommendation: The Sochi Project’s An Atlas of War and Tourism in the Caucasus

An Atlas of War and Tourism in the Caucasus - Rob Hornstra and Arnold van Bruggen (Aperture)

An Atlas of War and Tourism in the Caucasus – Rob Hornstra and Arnold van Bruggen (Aperture)

With only a few days left of the Sochi Olympics, I can’t say that I’ve been impressed by American television coverage of the games. The sports coverage has been on par with NBC’s usual broadcasting. But I knew the other coverage (looking at Russia’s culture, politics, economy, etc.) would be bad when an NBC commentator didn’t explain symbolism during the opening ceremonies and instead told viewers to “google it.” I loved the opening ceremonies (having been a student of Russian history and culture), but there were serious omissions.

One of the most comprehensive resources I’ve found on everything surrounding the games, from what Sochi was to what it has become to what’s going on in nearby regions, is The Sochi Project‘s An Atlas of War and Tourism in Caucasus by Rob Hornstra and Arnold van Bruggen, published by Aperture. They’ve just posted on Facebook that the first edition is 85% sold out. That’s no small feat for a huge art book with 4500 copies. The book is available (alongside other publications by the pair) in The Sochi Project’s online store or through the Aperture website. The cheapest price to be had is through Amazon ($57 as of this writing), where only a handful of copies remain in stock, though more are on the way.

Don’t let the book cover fool you (my girlfriend hates it!). This is a serious document, the end product of 7 years documenting the region. There are great bite-sized briefs on many of the surrounding regions and histories interspersed among excellent and incisive photography and writing of Hornstra and van Bruggen. For a centuries-old conflict (and the current rat’s nest of corruption and crime), the book is an astonishing accomplishment. At over 400 pages, it isn’t easy to digest. I’ve taken to working through short sections day by day in addition to just leafing through it. Don’t take my word for it, though. Joerg Colberg called it “Highly recommended” in his review, or see what the New York Review of Books had to say, or Slate, or Fast Company, or Mother Jones, or the Guardian, among others.

Make sure to also spend time with the entire Sochi Project website. I find the book to be a more accessible way of viewing this project, but the website has a lot that isn’t included in An Atlas of War and Tourism in Caucasus. By the way, both Hornstra and van Bruggen have been banned from Russia, which we wrote about previously.

You might also be interested in previous posts about Hornstra and the Sochi Project on dvafoto, going back to 2008:

And on the subject of Sochi, my favorite reporting on the games has been by The New Republic’s Julia Ioffe (link to author; link to TNR’s Sochi reporting, which includes other authors). Check out: Evgeni Plushenko Pulls Out of the Olympics, Proving That Corruption Is Bad or The Only People Harassing the Gays of Sochi are the Foreign Journalists or Russians Think We’re Engaging in Olympic Schadenfreude. They’re Right. or Why Did Someone Put a Giant Wooden Cock on a Kremlin Critic’s Car? And be sure to check out the New York Times’ An Olympics in the Shadow of a War Zone and Sochi or Bust: Have Niva, Need Hammer. I’ve also enjoyed the Guardian’s coverage of the sports themselves, including Sochi 2014: 10 high contrast shots at the Winter Olympics – in pictures.

By the way, if you click through our links to buy anything here, we get a small cut of the sale. It’s a way for us to keep the lights on here at dvafoto. Thanks to those of you who have clicked through us in the past! Consider bookmarking this link to Amazon. It doesn’t change prices for you and gives a small portion of the sale to dvafoto.

First-world problems or real problems? Western journalists are whining about Sochi Olympics hotels (updated)


I’ve spent about 10 months in Russia over the past eight or nine years, in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, but also in more remote cities such as Vorkuta, Ufa, Petrozavodsk, and Voronezh. Even in Moscow, where the hotel stood next to the Russian Foreign Ministry and the rooms was listed at about $175/night, there were substantial issues with water and heat.

Travel in Russia is not easy, and that’s why some of the viral complaints by journalists at the Sochi Olympics seem naive and privileged. Much of the world can’t flush toilet paper down the toilet. Much of the world can’t depend on clean water. Much of the world doesn’t have American breakfast food in the morning.

But there are valid issues coming through in the reports from the media village in Sochi. There are security issues. Some of the water is unfit even for bathing (West Virginia knows about that all too well). Much of the infrastructure is unfinished. There are stray dogs in hotels. By connecting to wifi in the Olympic village, you can be assured that your computer will be hacked and your data will be stolen. (See Update II below)

The Washington Post has the largest collection of journalists’ complaints about their hotels, calling the experiences “hilarious and gross.” Deadspin got in on the act, saying “Staying in Sochi is a Hilarious Adventure.” The Wire has a wonderful analysis of some of these complaints, classifying them either as “real problem” or “first-world problem.” Can’t flush the toilet paper? First-world problem. Water unfit for bathing? Real problem. Margaret Coker, blogging for the Wall Street Journal, tells journalists to stop complaining, offering a good read on the scope of these complaints.

In fact, many of the images purported to be from the Sochi Olympics site are not from Sochi or Russia at all. The Telegraph leads their story about these complaints with a picture of three office chairs facing a toilet. Gizmodo busts some of these photos, finding that many of them have been passed around online for a year or more. The Wire has a similar analysis.

As usual, BagNews has a deeper read on what these reports mean, warning that by saturating news sites with “hilarious” (and sometimes fake) complaints about hotel conditions, readers and viewers lose sight of the real issues surrounding these Olympic Games. Real infrastructure problems need to be reported, but so does the conflict in areas close to the Olympics, Russia’s abuse of human rights, corruption in the construction and production of the Sochi Olympics, and anti-gay legislation and sentiment in the country. These issues deserve the media attention now being diverted to pictures of toilets.

UPDATE: Dmitry Kozak, the deputy prime minister responsible for the Olympic preparations, told the Wall Street Journal that they have surveillance footage of shower usage in journalists’ hotel rooms. A spokesman for Kozak quickly said they don’t have footage of anyone in showers or hotel rooms.

UPDATE II: The reports about Sochi wifi hacking seem to be exaggerated. Vice’s Motherboard site has a deeper look at NBC’s report, which served as the basis for the Yahoo piece linked above. The device infection demonstrations were done in Moscow and required the user to click on malware on a website, just as would happen anywhere in the world. The Trend Micro security expert in the NBC piece has a blog post and white paper detailing the method of infection used in his demonstrations.

Rob Hornstra denied Russian visa; Moscow exhibition of The Sochi Project cancelled

Screenshot of The Sochi Project website - October 2013

Screenshot of The Sochi Project website – October 2013

Rob Hornstra and writing partner Arnold van Bruggen have been working on The Sochi Project since 2007, examining the city as it prepares for the 2014 Winter Olympics. At the beginning of October 2013, Hornstra was denied a visa to return to the country in advance of a planned exhibition opening Oct. 17 at Winzavod, Russia’s premiere museum for contemporary art. Russian officials have declined to giver a reason for the visa denial, but, in an interview with RiaNovosti, Hornstra suspects it might have to do with his coverage of the volatile North Caucasus region, including the recent publication of the book The Secret History of Khava Gaisanova. The Moscow Times also has coverage. It’s unclear whether Hornstra will be allowed to enter Russia again.

As a result of the visa issues, Winzavod has just announced the cancellation of the Sochi Project exhibition, though the museum leaves open the possibility of showing the work at a later date (Winzavod press release).

Russia jails freelance photog; Russian media blackout photos in protest (UPDATED)


UPDATE 24 October 2013: Russia has dropped piracy charges against the 30 Greenpeace activists, including photographer Denis Sinyakov. They are now charged with “hooliganism,” which seems to be similar to a charge of “disorderly conduct” in the US. Lenta has the news in Russian.

UPDATE 29 September 2013: There’s now website gathering signatures of support and money for the legal defense fund (via Yandex and Paypal) for Denis Sinyakov: FreedomDenisSinyakov.ru

Original: This week Russian security forces arrested 30 Greenpeace activists who were protesting oil drilling in the Arctic. The group, comprising people from 18 nations, used a boat to approach a drilling operation, and a few members tried to board the platform. The activists were arrested and may be charged with piracy in addition to other crimes (though Putin questions the piracy charge).

Among those arrested was freelance photographer Denis Sinyakov, a Redux contributing photographer, who now faces months in prison. Reporters Without Borders has condemned Sinyakov’s arrest and sentence, calling it an “unacceptable violation of freedom of information.” Sinyakov has worked as a photographer for Greenpeace in the past, in addition to regular assignment work for Reuters and AFP. Russian radio station Ekho Moskvy has a petition asking for the release of Sinyakov, and Greenpeace has a petition asking for the release of all the arrested activists.

In protest of Sinyakov’s arrest, major independent Russian media sites have blacked out their photos today. As seen in the screenshots above, Dozhd, Novaya Gazeta, Russian Reporter, Ekho Moskvy, Znak, Lenta, Russkaya Planeta, and others have joined the call to release the photographer.

This happened to me: Saint Petersburg thieves steal lens off front of tourist’s camera (video)

I was in Russia for a couple of weeks at the start of August, and the trip went well (you can see a few pictures on my tumblr). That is, it went well until my last night. Thieves stole my 35mm lens right off the front of my camera in the metro in Saint Petersburg. The red ring on the front of an L lens might as well be a neon sign.

It’s a known attack in the city, but after speaking with the police, seems to be relatively new. You can see how quickly the crime happens in the video above.

I’d spent the afternoon near the water outside the Peter and Paul Fortress (site of this Cartier-Bresson image) and, as the sun went down, joined the crowds getting back on the metro at Gorkovskaya Station. Getting on to the metro, I put my bag and my camera across my body in front, as is my habit in crowded situations. The train car doors opened and suddenly I was being jostled more than I should have been for the size of the crowd. I saw hands going for my camera, and instinctively reached to protect camera, camera bag, wallet, and phone. It was too much to protect and the 4 or 5 guys, all dressed alike, kept gently jostling me back and forth. That was enough. I finally pushed through the crowd, but then felt that some weight was gone. I looked down, and my lens had disappeared. The pickpockets had quickly run out of the train car right as the doors shut.

There was a bit of distance before the next station, and once there, I found a metro worker and got the police involved. The thieves were no doubt long gone and I would be leaving the country the next day, but I needed a police report. I don’t know how the process would have gone if I didn’t speak Russian, but I have to say the metro police were quite pleasant to deal with. They took down information about the crime, noted descriptions of the guys who surrounded me (all wearing baseball caps, buzzed haircuts, nondescript gray t-shirts), and had me look at a book of mugshots. They had apprehended one person in the area about the same time as my theft, but I couldn’t make a satisfactory identification.

I consider myself lucky. I didn’t get hurt, my gear was insured, I didn’t lose my passport, and so on. I wouldn’t hesitate to go back to Russia (this was my 4th time in the country, and the first during which anything bad happened) or Saint Petersburg, but I’ll stay a bit further away from crowds in touristy areas next time.

I’ve got to commend Package Choice, my gear and liability insurance company, for handling this as well as they did. Less than a week after the theft, I had a replacement lens in hand. I’ve never filed a claim with any insurance company before, but this was easy. Pay a small deductible, provide a few documents (police report, proof of ownership), and they did the rest. I shopped around a bit before settling on them a few years back, and I couldn’t find anyone else that offered the same service and coverage. From the get-go, they’ve provided domestic and international coverage for theft and accident, domestic liability (and a little international, or more if you pay extra), and very quick responses on everything from updating gear lists to getting same-day insurance certificates for free to getting my lens replaced in this case.

Brauer’s back in Russia July 30-Aug. 11 — and the next exchange is accepting applications, too

I’m excited to announce that I’ll be returning to Russia next week to take part in the Bilateral Presidential Commission Mass Media Sub-Working Group meeting (that’s a ridiculous mouthful…). Last year, I was one of 12 journalists from the US that participated in the inaugural US-Russia Young Media Professionals Exchange (the second exchange will happen in a few months, and applications are being accepted until August 9), administered by the International Center for Journalists and funded by the Knight Foundation. Now, as part of a continued cooperation and dialogue between the Putin and Obama administrations, this meeting next week will be an opportunity for delegates from newsrooms, academia, and government, in both countries to talk about the business, process, and nature of journalism in both countries. I’ll be representing the other journalists who went on the exchange last year to talk about what went right and what went wrong on the exchange.

I’ll be in St. Petersburg for a couple of days and then available Aug. 3 – Aug. 10, tentatively planning to head north from St. Petersburg.

A bit about the exchange: Twelve Americans traveled to Moscow and worked in newsrooms there for 3.5 weeks (I was at ITAR-TASS Photo; others were at Kommersant, Ogonek, Moskovskii Komsomolets, Komsomolskaya Pravda, and other major news organizations in the country) and twelve Russians came to the US to work in newsrooms here, including Oregon Public Broadcasting, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Seattle Times, and the Miami Herald. It was a phenomenal opportunity to take my previous life as a Russian major and mix it with my current life as a photojournalist.

My experience in Moscow involved working closely with editors in the news and assignment desks at ITAR-TASS Photo and go on daily assignments alongside the agency’s wire photographers. You can see some of the images I took during my time in Moscow and a reporting trip to Ufa, Bashkortostan, Russia, above. The nature of these daily assignments was quite interesting, especially coming from a background of newspaper and magazine photography in the US. The majority of the assignment work I saw involved a press conference, media availability, or official opening or tour. Access to politicians and businesses was extremely limited and heavily negotiated for each assignment. ITAR-TASS is a state news agency, but their operating budget, from what I understand, comes entirely from photo licensing and sales. Images of Putin and Medvedev, of course, are the biggest sellers, but the agency frequently covered opposition politicians while I was there. An editor told me the market for those types of images was generally limited to publications in Moscow and outside of Russia. I also got the opportunity to talk extensively with photographers from ITAR-TASS and other Moscow publications, sharing what it’s like to work in the US and learning about being a photojournalist in Russia. Many expressed frustration about the subjects their papers covered, how politics is reported in the media, lack of access on all types of stories, general suspicion of journalists and photographers (one photographer told me about getting harassed while taking pictures of holiday lighting in a busy shopping area of Moscow).

We also had substantial opportunity to meet with editors and journalists at many newspapers in Moscow, though most of these were state-run operations. When asked about their approach to the news, an editor at Komsomolskaya Pravda said, “We support the President,” and said that stance is what guides the newspaper’s reporting. Other reporters at that publication and elsewhere told us that the relationship with the administration was a bit more complicated than that. While living in China, I became accustomed to the Chinese way of controlling the media through daily directives of what can and cannot be published. I expected that something like that would exist in Russia, but in talking with editors and reporters, heard of no such centralized control of newsrooms. Rather, reporters we spoke with seemed to have a general sense of what news would and wouldn’t fly in daily editorial meetings, not unlike newsrooms in the US. Of course, they said their editors would rarely approve a story critical of the administration, but even one of the largest newspapers in the country isn’t afraid to criticize Putin’s party or investigate murders of journalists. That editor, Pavel Gusev, told our group that he had no problem printing journalism critical of the administration, so long as it could be backed up with facts and honest journalism.

One of the biggest shortfalls of the exchange was that we did not have any official meetings with independent and opposition journalists and publications. This was to be expected, but there was opportunity to arrange those sorts of meetings on our own. Online and social-media focused journalism and blogging is a significant force in Russian politics and society, and I only saw glimpses of that.

Definitely consider applying for the next exchange. It is scheduled for this fall, and the deadline for applying is August 9, 2013.

Brauer’s in Moscow, Russia: Nov. 26 – Dec. 21

I’m very excited to announce that I will be participating in the first Young Media Professionals Exchange Program organized by the International Center for Journalists and Moscow Union of Journalists as part of a 2-year initiative between Russia and the US. The program is funded by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Twelve journalists from Russia will come to the US to work for a variety of news organizations here, and I will be one of 12 from the US who will live in Moscow from Nov. 26 to Dec. 21 working for a variety of Russian news organizations. I’ll be working for the ITAR-TASS Photo Agency, a Russian photo news service dating to 1926 when it was known as Photochronica TASS.

As such, I won’t be available for assignment work in the US until the end of December, but get in touch if you have any needs in Russia. I’ll primarily be in Moscow. You can leave a voicemail or SMS at (917) 512-3473 or contact me by email. I’ve already been in touch with a few of our readers in Russia to get together, but if you’re in Moscow, get in touch and I’d love to meet you.

It’s been nearly 10 years since I’ve been to Russia, though one of my university degrees is in Russian Language, Literature, and Culture. I wasn’t much of a photographer when I was there last, but you can see a few images from Vorkuta, Komi, Russia, in the gallery above. In addition to the work I’m doing there, I’ll be posting pictures during the trip to instagram and tumblr.

Worth a watch – Arrivals and Departures with Jacob Aue Sobol

Arrivals and Departures with Jacob Aue Sobol: Episode 2 – Moscow from Leica Camera on Vimeo.

Arrivals and Departures with Jacob Aue Sobol: Episode 6 – The Final Episode from Leica Camera on Vimeo.

“In the streets I try not to make any rational decisions about what to photograph and what not. I do not have any rules. I take pictures of everything on my way: a tree, a building, a shadow, a person. Sometimes it takes me two hours to get down a street, because there are so many things to photograph and people to meet.” -Jacob Aue Sobol, Arrivals and Departures with Jacob Aue Sobol: Episode 5 – Beijing

Photography can be a solitary act; there’s the photographer and subjects and not much else. That’s why I relish it when I get the chance to see good photographers at work. I love seeing how they get into the situations that result in pictures, how they walk the streets, how they handle subjects. Videos like the ones above make me want to go out and make pictures in the same way that seeing a great band makes me want to learn to play the guitar.

Now, via the Leica blog, we have a couple videos of Jacob Aue Sobol (Magnum portfolio) at work in Russia, Mongolia, and China. He’s long been a favorite, so I’m especially excited about this. The videos are a quick glimpse, but interesting nonetheless to see what precipitates his raw and intimate imagery. The two videos are embedded above, named Part 2 and Part 6. The other parts are text and picture blog posts on the Leica blog: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6.

New Projects Worth Supporting

In recent weeks a few interesting and worthy fundraising campaigns have come across our radar that I wanted to share.




Grozny – Nine Cities is an ongoing project by Russian photographers Olga Kravets, Maria Morina and Oksana Yushko.

Grozny, the capital of war-torn Chechnya, is a melting pot for changing Caucasus society that is trying to overcome a trauma of two recent wars and find its own way of life in between traditional Chechen values, Muslim traditions, and globalization. Our project is inspired by Thornton Wilder’s book Theophilus North. It centers on the idea of nine cities being hidden in one. We applied this concept to Grozny as nine “levels of existence” hidden within the city.

More information can be found on their website, Grozny: Nine Cities.
Notable rewards for help in supporting the project: Postcards and signed prints. As of publishing there are 39 days left to sponsor the project via Emphas.is.

Newsmotion is a new concept of journalistic website put together by a very talented team of independent writers, journalists and producers, including Julian Rubinstein, Todd Gitlin and their photo editor Alan Chin, in partnership with the People’s Production House. A pre-launch of the site is now online at Newsmotion.org and includes a preview of a story I worked on with Gitlin and Serbian activist Srdja Popovic about Non-Violent Resistance while both were in Belgrade last May. Visit the Kickstarter campaign.

Newsmotion is an innovative platform for civic media, public art, and original documentary reportage. We are harnessing the power of independent voices, technology, and collaborative storytelling to help the critical issues of our time engage new audiences and find new solutions

Recent events—including the uprisings in the Middle East and the Occupy movement—have shown that individuals and communities with access to technology are able to get their voices heard. A collective vision for the future of civic media is already being realized in revolutionary ways—Newsmotion is our contribution to this movement.

Notable rewards: Books written by contributors, limited editions of “The Occupied Wall Street Journal” and the Yes Men’s special edition of The New York Times, an invitation to the famous Winter Gumbo party on December 27 in New York City (be sure to check the details and offers on this, it has been a hit in the past). Deadline: there are only 10 days to go, finishing on December 29, 2011.

FOLK is a new documentary film by Sara Terry about “singer-songwriters who are working just under the radar of mainstream American music, their lives playing out in a vibrant sub-culture that few people know about.” Visit the Kickstarter campaign.

Part music documentary and part road trip movie, FOLK lets our characters’ lives and their songs do what singer-songwriters have always done: amplify the themes that resonate across our cultural landscape – whether it’s re-defining success in the face of failure, trying to find wholeness in an increasingly fragmented world, or struggling to make sense of the trials and triumphs that make us all so human.

Notable rewards: Special edition DVDs, downloads and CDs from the project, limited edition prints and posters or even songs written about or for you by the musicians in the documentary. There are 15 days left, ending on January 3, 2012.

UPDATE (1/2/12): We’ve very happy to be able to say congratulations to the team behind Newsmotion for reaching and exceeding their Kickstarter goal and funding the next stage of the project. As well, Sara Terry reached beyond her fundraising goal for the documentary FOLK. There is still about a day to contribute if you want to be part of the founder’s community. The Grozny: Nine Cities campaign has 25 days left and could still use your support.

Vintage photos of Moscow and St. Petersburg resurface

Traveling Priests of the lower class — © Murray Howe, 1909

Traveling Priests of the lower class — © Murray Howe, 1909

There’s nothing I like more than vintage photos from Russia. We’ve seen color photos from the very early 1900s Russia before, and now a new trove of images from pre-revolutionary Russia have been unveiled. The photos, reports the Moscow Times, were taken during a visit to the country by Union Carbide founder Cornelius Kingsley Garrison Billings. Billings was on tour with his prize-winning racehorses, and he brought along journalist Murray Howe, armed with an early Graflex camera, to produce periodic dispatches for The Horse Review magazine. And while Howe’s charge was nominally to report on horses, his pictures prove to be a valuable historical record of daily life in pre-revolutionary Russia. Of the 400 images captured by Howe, 76 have been posted here on flickr.

Make sure to read the anecdotes that appear alongside some of the photos. The story accompanying this photo of the Moscow Thieves Market, for instance, is just wonderful.

(via MetaFilter)