Satellites. Photographs from the Fringes of the Former Soviet Union. Text and photos by Jonas Bendiksen. Aperture, New York, 2006. 152 pp. Quarto. First edition. SIGNED on front flyleaf. Hardbound. Photo-illustrated boards. 62 color reproductions.
NOTE: Illustrations at right and below are a stock images; item offered in as new condition.
History is written in the margins. Several of the six regions depicted in Satellites used to be strategic hinterlands of the sprawling Soviet empire, but upon its dissolution, regional conflicts played out like mini-apocalypses. Amazingly, three of them are self-perceived sovereign states: Transdniester, Abkhazia and Nagorno-Karabakh. We may not see their nameplates at the UN very soon however, for they are still caught up in the grumble of geopolitical interests. Magnum photographer Jonas Bendiksen has traversed them for years, in which time the center of the former Soviet system reconfigured its stratagem even further afield. Left on their own, with arbitrary borders leftover from Stalinist control and ethnic and religious tensions still unresolved, these territories each charted its own peculiar trajectory. Bendiksen tells their stories through atmospheric and enigmatic interiors of bars and small homes, or painful vistas of decimated towns, stripped to rebuild the victors' town nearby. Like pessimistic versions of Calvino's Invisible Cities, these regions are lyrical in their histories, and yield hallucinations of everyday existence. The Jewish Autonomous Region, a chilly border province with China, hosted no Semitic history until the 1920s. On a frozen street there, two anonymous figures struggle or play. From Abkhazia, a former resort town bombed into its own dusk, comes a magnificent tableau involving a peacock, a stuffed bear and a slouching man, each seeming to ask a poignant and absurd question of the viewer. The structure of the book is punctuated by stills of Soviet rocket launch, which projects us into what seems like a dreamlike tomorrow, especially in the final section. In the Kazakh Steppe region, Soyuz boosters and other hulking spacecraft detritus land amidst villages and farmlands. Residents salvage what they can for tools and resale, despite the corrosive fuel that also lands there. The cover image, suffused with white butterflies, captures the near-future irreality as no other shot in the book. Like most important international photojournalism, this work introduces most of us to the people who are left in the wake of much larger global influences. And this is also the conundrum of such compelling projects: to us they are the forgotten exotic ones; for them, this is their lives.---