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Strippers and Sanatoria: Beyond Sochi's Glamour

Published: February 7, 2014 (Issue # 1796)



  • Olga, 29, a strip club manager in Sochi, dreams of having a family but says she’ll never stop dancing. Her story is among many vignettes woven into a moving depiction of the Caucasus.
    Photo: The Sochi Project

  • The Sochi Project shows the rough daily life outside the Olympic Village.
    Photo: Rob Hornstra / The Sochi Project

  • A blown up shop in the village of Ordzhonikidzevskaya, located close to the Chechen border.
    Photo: The Sochi Project

  • Brothers Zashrikwa (l) and Edrese in the troubled Kodori Valley, a remote mountainous region.
    Photo: Rob Hornstra / The Sochi Project

With the 2014 Winter Olympics due to begin Friday in Sochi, the eyes of the world are firmly trained on Russia's restive and unstable North Caucasus region. In the run-up to the Games, the media has been filled with journalists complaining about dirty water, bad toilets and stray dogs at their Olympic accomodations, but little has been written about the impact the Games will have on Sochi locals and the many problems facing the larger Caucasus region. This is precisely what Dutchmen Rob Hornstra and Arnold Van Bruggen sought to discover in their five-year slow journalism report "The Sochi Project. An Atlas of War and Tourism in the Caucasus."

Hornstra, a photographer, and Van Bruggen, a writer and filmmaker, made headlines in July 2013 when they were denied visas to enter Russia, curtailing the exhibit of their work that was intended to go on display in Moscow last fall. However, Muscovites can still see all their work, either on their website or in the recently released book published by The Aperture Foundation. The bureaucratic obstacle course they faced during the five years only adds more color to what is a fascinating and warm collection of photographs of and interviews with the beleaguered inhabitants of Russia's poorest region.

Related: Sochi Project Makes Debut Despite Denied Visas

Hornstra and Van Bruggen express surprise that Sochi was chosen for the Olympics at all, given its relatively mild winters, not to mention the ethnic strife that has plagued the area since the time of Tolstoy and Lermontov. Discussing Putin's triumphant acceptance speech, they contradict each of his optimistic remarks. Putin says proudly "On the seashore, you can enjoy a fine spring day, but up in the mountains, it is winter." They point out that "up in the mountains, there is not only snow, but an ongoing war with separatist rebels."

There is little included in the book about Sochi's expensive new stadiums or infrastructure, in fact, there is little about Sochi itself at all. The two spend time chatting to Sochi residents, who compare the arrival of the Games to the arrival of an enormous spaceship — it is so alien to them. They talk to absolutely everyone and anyone, like a Moldovan on the train on the way to Sochi who offers them "cheap women," to which they laugh and reply that they have "cheaper women in Amsterdam."

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Tuesday, Sept. 2


Join expats and practice your Russian during the Russian Club’s weekly meeting tonight at 7:30 p.m. The club is free to participate in although you need to be a registered member of Couchsurfing.



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