In the early 1970s, the Soviet Union built an amphibious airplane designed to skim the sea, searching for US nuclear submarines. It flew, but the Kremlin scuttled the Bartini Beriev VVA-14 after a prototype crashed, the designer died, and a supplier bungled an order. The one remaining plane rusts away in a field at the Russian Air Force Museum outside Moscow.
That ill-fated plane is among 33 Soviet-era relics that Danila Tkachenko photographed for his series and photo book Restricted Areas. Many see them as monuments to the Cold War, a reminder of a time when the world lived under the threat of annihilation. But Tkachenko sees the Soviet Union’s aspirations and failures, and a rejection of the pursuit of political and technological utopias. “My project is a metaphor [for] post-technology apocalypse,” he says.
The series takes its name from the dozens of “secret” cities that housed the government’s most sensitive military and scientific programs. These cities were closed to all but the people who worked in them, and visits required approval from the highest levels. Many of them still stand today, abandoned and falling into ruin.
Tkachenko’s grandmother lives in Ozyorsk, a village built around a plutonium factory. Part of the factory blew up in 1957, irradiating the surrounding landscape. Tkachenko visited her in 2012, and started thinking about the tension between the promise of technology and the havoc it often wreaks. “It was the inspiration for the whole series,” he says.
He worked on the project each winter for three years, traveling more than 15,000 miles through Russia, Kazakhstan and Bulgaria. After identifying a location, Tkachenko would wait for fog or snow before shooting with a Mamiya 7. He favored a small aperature and long exposure to create a dreamy, otherworldly feel.
Shooting everything in the snow adds to the surreal sight of a submarine beached in a field or an abandoned building that looks like a battlement on Hoth. All of this technology, designed for war and abandoned when that war was lost. “I wanted to show the other side of progress and technology,” Tkachenko says. “It’s not always leading us to better future, but can also be a failure or bring destruction.”
Restricted Areas will be showing at the Kehrer Gallery in Berlin from June 4.
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