30 de junio 2015. Norilsk. A review crossing with Christer Ek. 1.

Hoy es el primer dia de una colaboración. Christer Ek me ofreció hacer un post en común, un cruce entre los dos, “a review crossing”. Acepté, temblorosa, halagada y profundamente honrada. Le doy las gracias por ser el iniciador de esta experiencia, que espero se prolongue en el tiempo. Encontrareis su version después de la mía, en inglés. Thank you Christer !

Norilsk. Alexander Gronsky. The Velvet Cell. 2015.

IMG_7196 IMG_7197 IMG_7198 Tapa dura, en carton.23×14,3 cm. 64 paginas. Color. Sin texto.                                   Primera edición. Tirada limitada 500. The Velvet Cell es una pequeña pero muy activa editorial creada en 2011 por el fotógrafo irlandés Eanna De Fréine, basada en Japón. Publican entre otros libros una serie llamada ” Chronicles” , magazines de tirada limitada (100) , con temas de urbanismo y paisaje, vendidos por subscripción. Alexander Gronsky es un fotógrafo de Estonia (1980, Tallin). Ganó el World Press Photo en 2012. Trabaja principalmente en los países de la antigua Union Soviética. En 2013 publico un precioso “Pastoral” con la editorial Contrasto Books, sobre lugares de recreo y esparcimiento en las afueras de Moscú. IMG_7199 IMG_7200 IMG_7201 IMG_7202 IMG_7203 IMG_7204 IMG_7205 Norilsk es un libro triste y desolador, sobre una ciudad desolada entre las mas desoladas, en el norte de Siberia. Si buscamos el nombre de Norilsk en Wikipedia, descubrimos que es la ciudad de mas de 100 000 habitantes mas al norte del mundo, que ha sido de los primeros ” Gulag” creados en los años 30, y también, debido a la presencia de minas de níquel, y su consiguiente industria, es una de las 10 ciudades con mas polución del mundo. La ciudad que nos muestra Gronsky parece una ciudad fantasma, prácticamente deshabitada, como abandonada después de una catástrofe nuclear, como podríamos imaginar Chernobyl… pero no, porque se percibe actividad en las chimeneas de las fabricas, y no, porque en las imágenes que conocemos de Chernobyl encontramos mucha vegetación. Aquí , paradójicamente , la única vegetación se encuentra en el cementerio, pobres arbustos, que no llegarán nunca a la condición de arboles (ni un árbol en 48 km, dice Wikipedia). IMG_7206 IMG_7207 IMG_7208 IMG_7209 IMG_7210 IMG_7211 IMG_7212 IMG_7213 27 fotografías, todas sacadas a la luz del día, en plena ciudad, en las que solo encontramos presencia humana viva en 4 de ellas. Una presencia irreal y absurda en una ciudad fantasma, como la aparición de un parque infantil. Puede haber niños entre los amontonamientos de automobiles deshechos y los ríos de agua estancada? IMG_7214 IMG_7215 IMG_7216 IMG_7217 IMG_7218 IMG_7219 IMG_7220 IMG_7221

Luz triste y ténue, gris y pastel, azules lavados, celadon, verdes pasados con el tiempo… la paleta de Gronsky es rica de muchos matices. Sus fotos son tan aterradoras como bellas. En formato pequeño pero a doble pagina, el efecto es terriblemente cautivador. Las perspectivas de bloques de viviendas alineados, las torres eléctricas, las chimeneas o los descampados de coches abandonados forman un conjunto plásticamente muy impresionante. IMG_7222 IMG_7223 IMG_7224 IMG_7225 IMG_7226 IMG_7227

Alexander Gronsky consigue plasmar en un libro de apariencia modesta una gran historia, con un gran resultado. Un libro como una premonición de fin del mundo, fino y sutil, de una belleza inquietante.

http://alexandergronsky.com/#/portfolio/works/norilsk-2013/0 http://www.thevelvetcell.com/collections/editions/products/norilsk-alexander-gronsky https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norils

Aqui tenéis la version de Christer !


The northernmost attractivity or revulsion. Norilsk by Alexander Gronsky.

To introduce this post, I’d like to explain that this is a new attempt to create a crossover review of a book. We have chose « Norilsk » by Alexander Gronsky with my fellow blogger Gabriela Cendoya – mainly photobooks. Both articles will be published concomitantly and shared respectively in the second part of the article. Hope you’ll like this new experience.

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When you reach the Polar Circle, life turns to some weird conditions which are hardly bearable for people who are not originated from those areas. These are places of extremes : complete dark nights in winter, sunlight 24 hours a day in summer, and an average temperature of minus 30 in February. Those places were populated by indigenous populations who used to live in those conditions and thus developed an economic activity in relation with them and based on hunting and specific agriculture.

In the XXth century, the governments of northern countries discovered the richness of the underground : iron ore in Kiruna (Sweden), oil and gas in Hammerfest (Norway) and nickel, copper and cobalt ore in Norilsk (Russia). Amongst those different places, Norilsk has a particular history. Created in the 30’s by Stalin, the place was supposed to become a huge center for energetic ressources for the communist regime : extraction of ore (nickel, copper) and coal, and also place of production of electricity with thermal and hydropower plants. And last but not least, comrade Stalin was well known for his care of human beings, he created Norillag, a specific Gulag camp dedicated to host the workforce who will work around Norilsk. The actual population is mainly composed of descendants of prisoners who, as often in every USSR Gulag, remain in place when they were released, not having any more relatives in the place they lived before their internment.

From those facts, you won’t expect to find any tourist office in Norilsk. The town is considered as one of the ugliest and most polluted place in the world.

Alexander Gronsky was born in 1980 in Tallinn and focused since 2008 on the margin of the decayed USSR society : outskirts of Moscow, Murmansk, Norilsk, Siberian outermost areas with less than one inhabitant per square kilometer… Alexander’s photographs are often quite hard to read, landscapes are out of scale and the place of human beings becomes anecdotal. People does not fit their environment and the past oppression of the population remains visible.

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Well, after those digressions (which are not in fact) let’s talk about “Norilsk” the book. The strongest impression is that we discover a ghost town. According to the northern location of the town and the state of vegetation, the photographs could have been shot during summer nights which explains the missing people in the street, but, in fact, it merely emphasizes the lack of life remaining in Norilsk. We barely see people in the photos, and when there are some, we don’t understand what they’re doing here : two men waiting for an improbable bus at a stop, a woman coming from nowhere crossing a railway, three persons on a raft floating on pond made from a past quarry. In every other photos, the town is deserted, alternating parking lots, kinder garden or wastelands (the majority). The paradox in Alexander Gronsky work is the fantastic aesthetics that outcrop from the photographs. Each photo is fulfilled with details that tell the background of the place and everything is out of scale : buildings without ending, pylons lines, chimneys, past quarries, removed land, dump of cars…

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What we can see is the aftermath of a disaster : an economic, ecological and social disaster, or to better say the failure of a system (I mean stalinism, not communism). All photographs are slightly desaturated, mainly composed in gray with some touches of colors that have faded away for years now. Grey is the color of the life up there, greyness of buildings, greyness of soils, greyness of smokes which remain ubiquitous, the color has left this world. No animals neither in those pictures which is quite rare to not even have a bird in a sky, or a cat passing through the street, the life has left this world.

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Well, we have known from “The new topographics” that the ugliness of a place can make aesthetics representations, and that’s exactly what we are in with this book. Alexander has a perfect eye to compose and organise his photographs. Despite what we see, we fall in love with its representation, and that’s probably one of the biggest quality for a photographer (Pastoral won the 3rd place in Daily Life Stories for the World Press Photo 2012).

The book is published by The Velvet Cell, a fantastic publisher dedicated to landscape photography (I also recommend the « Chronicles » series). 64 pages, 27 photos, 14 x 23 cm, Hardcover cleverly bound which allow us to open the book lay flat, print run : 500 copies.


More about Alexander Gronsky : http://alexandergronsky.com/#/

More about The Velvet Cell : http://www.thevelvetcell.com/

All images copyright Alexander Gronsky and The Velvet Cell, can be removed on request.


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