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Motherland Hardcover – 26 Mar 2007
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|Hardcover, 26 Mar 2007||
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Photographer Simon Roberts travelled throughout Russia, for a year between July 2004 and August 2005, exploring the idea of the Russian 'motherland' and creating one of the most extensive photographic accounts of this vast country by a Westerner. His images are not cliched representations of a Russia ground down by poverty and despair; rather, he presents a beautiful and awe-inspiring land, with dignified people empowered by growing optimism. Intimate portraits of contemporary Russians show us a diverse people, united by a common sense of national identity, while breathtaking landscapes reveal the complexity of the country.
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The diversity of his subjects reflects the diversity of the country he was exploring. His straightforward framing and unsentimental use of light suit the directness of his subjects, whatever their circumstances.
The landscapes are beautiful and haunting in turn, but it was the portraits that really left me thinking about the country long after I had put the book down. They are arresting in their brutal honesty and I felt humbled by the proud defiance of the people staring back at me, daring me to question their hopes and dreams. Roberts has captured a mood of optimism and carefully avoided turning the people he has encountered into `subjects'.
This is an awesome book (in the true sense of the word) with such a powerful presence that it will probably get under your skin, making you want to know more about both Roberts and Russia.
I particularly liked the wry observations and moments of humour - like the stall holder at Pyatigorsk meat market who wears a frilly apron over her huge padded jacket, the hideous duvets on hotel beds and the mangy stuffed bears forlornly gnawing a bush in some provincial museum.
The portraits seem to look but not touch, letting you make up your own mind about the subjects, who they might be and what they might think. As for the landscapes and interiors, some of them are so exquisite you can hardly believe the thing that has been photographed is so prosaic: the filtered, algae green light that infuses the entrance to a food market in Khabarovsk is one example.
Despite all the aestheticism, it's nice that the book is anchored in reality with informative captions about every photograph and a key showing each place visited during Roberts' 75,000km journey through Russia.
The resilience and optimism in so many of his subjects shines through, even those living in most straitened and dismal circumstances, though tough realities are everywhere confronted. So many individual portraits remain memorable, even after the book is put down, especially of young Russians, in contrast to the 'babushka' cliches with which the reader may be more familiar.
Succinct text is well integrateed to create an invaluable study for anyone interested in Russia today.
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