In documenting a unique phenomenon, the German photographer Frank Herfort has journeyed to the most remote areas of the former Soviet Union. After the collapse of the regime, a strangely pompous architectural style sprung up throughout the new republic. It conflates the aesthetics of monumental Soviet architecture with the Western language of form seen in the twentieth century. Herfort’s series Imperial Pomp: Post-Soviet High-Rise was published in 2013 by the Kerber Verlag.
Photographer shows imperial splendour in the ex-USSR
German photographer Frank Herfort has spent the last several years travelling across the former Soviet Union, taking pictures of the grand new buildings constructed since the fall of Communism. Some of his photographs have been collected in a new book, Imperial Pomp.
“After exploring Moscow’s structures I realised, that in all cities and former Soviet countries you can find such buildings,” says Herfort. “So, I travelled to Vladivostok, to Blagoveshchensk on the Chinese border on River Amur, to Astana in Kazakhstan, to Baku in Azerbaijan, to Sochi and to St Petersburg. And everywhere in between.”
“I was always impressed by these huge constructions while driving through Moscow,” Herfort says. “Moscow doesn´t have a big skyline or big houses in the cityscape, and then I was even more impressed when suddenly there appeared one of these big new coloured buildings. They are standing like single flowers cropped in the landscape.”
“The strange thing is that these buildings are also used to manipulate the humans and try to make them feel small,” Herfort says, finding a link between these post-Communist buildings and their Soviet ancestors. “I never had the idea, that these buildings are constructed and designed for people. If you go inside or around, you see that there are no infrastructure, no pavements, no real access.”
“The first building I shot was the Aliye Parusa Tower in Moscow, because I was really impressed with the combination of Soviet elements and decors, which were also used in all of the Stalin-era buildings,”
Herfort took the pictures on both film and digital large-format film cameras. “I’ve used the classic analogue and the modern high end digital way together to produce the images.”
Architects, it seems, are encouraged to be as bold as possible. “You feel that each building wants to scream out, that I´m the best, the biggest, the richest. It is now more a question of prestige, which didn´t play any role in the Soviet times.”
Subtlety, Herfort says, is often not on the agenda with these new buildings. “It always reminds me a bit of the huge Soviet monuments. These buildings standing like heroes in the landscape. Very visible, you cannot ignore them.”
Herfort says this new era of bold building is often divisive. “The rich love it, the poor hate it. It is quite prestigious in Russia to live or work in such kind of buildings. But especially in Moscow, a lot of people are against these monstrous buildings, because the doesn´t fit to the old traditional architecture of the 19th Century.”
“This was for me a never-seen style and shows, for me, the new time in Russia,” says Herfort. “Something very special and different to all these similar-looking glass business buildings everywhere else in the world.”
BBC online, October 2013