It’s probably a futile endeavour to try to define what it is that spearates great photography from not-so-great photography. Often, great photography shows you something that you haven’t seen before. But there’s also great photography that shows you something that you haven’t seen that way before. Andrew Moore’s Russia is a book that does the latter.
As the title indicates, it’s a book about Russia, with more than one hundred photos taken with a large-format camera in Russia. Technicalities first, because - to some extent - they do matter: The book’s print quality is outstanding, and most photos are basically contact prints: The prints have the same size as the original negative. The detail in the photos is at times overwhelming, and the range of colours is unbelievable.
But it isn’t just the sheer beauty of the prints, it is what they depict and the way they do it. If you have any kinds of expectations about what you will see, you will be in for a surprise - both as far as the photography is concerned and the topic. Don’t we know Russia? That struggling democracy, run by a president who is, at best, half-heartedly devoted to democracy; that cold, grey country of hardship; and whatever else all those steretypes are that we are being spoonfed.
The sheer power of all the colours in the photos tell us about the essence of stereotypes: They’re a big fat, yet convenient, lies on top of what sometimes (and only sometimes) is a grain of truth. That adds another layer of satisfaction to the pleasure one gets from looking at the photography. Russia also teaches us about how a lot of what we think we know about that country isn’t true.
Sure, there is a lot of decay in Russia, but isn’t that also true for lots of places in our “rich”, so-called First World? The presence of decay and industrial decline doesn’t really say much about a place. (Ever been to Pittsburgh?)
I think what struck me the most about what I saw in many of those photos was how so much history is compressed into single spaces. You get to see all kinds of places that, over the course of the past one hundred years, were used for completely different purposes, like churches converted into storerooms, converted into hip-hop studios. And because it seems Andrew Moore was not trying to limit himself to any kind of locality, there is an amazing variety of places in the book, ranging from people’s apartments to Stalin’s office on Yalta.
So this is not just a book filled with great photography, it is also a book that will broaden your horizon a little bit. What else would you expect from a photography book?