What is The Sochi Project about?
In 2014, the Olympic Games will take place in Sochi, Russia. In the five years leading up to the Games, The Sochi Project
documents the explosive region around Sochi in the Caucasus – from the
little-known, renegade country of Abkhazia in the south, to notorious
breakaway republics such as Chechnya and Dagestan. Together, they form
the disparate region around Sochi, which is characterised by poverty,
separatism, terrorism, mass tourism and the upcoming Winter Games, the
most expensive ever.
When the International Olympic Committee and the
Russian machinery kick off the fabulous event in 2014, The Sochi
will offer an alternative picture of how the region has fared
during the run-up to the Games. This will be presented on an accessible
website, in a number of exhibitions at different locations around the
world and a small series of books focusing on specific local topics. Tell us about these two pictures: in which region were they taken?
dancers were shot in Adler, the city where the Olympic Games will
actually take place (25 kilometres outside Sochi). I was visiting a
cultural centre where we often met local people to discuss the region.
In this centre, young people were studying both classical and modern
The second picture was taken on the road into the
Kodori Gorge, a remote mountainous region on the border between Abkhazia
and Georgia. This is part of our book ‘Empty land, Promised land,
Forbidden land’ (2010), in which we explore the unknown country of
Abkhazia. On a sunny day, you can see the Abkhazian border from the top
of the future Olympic stadiums.
The Sochi Project is purely self-assigned: how do you manage to keep your
exploration going outside the framework of an editorial assignment?
the start of The Sochi Project
in 2009, we also started a crowd funding
programme. Travel and production costs (text and images) are largely
covered by donors of The Sochi Project
, who donate €10 (bronze), €100
(silver) or €1,000 (gold) per year. This has resulted in an annual
budget of approximately €20,000. Besides the donation programme, we try
to sell our work (in many different ways) and seek to obtain additional
funding to complement the missing budget. This way of working
must be very time and energy consuming, but I suppose it also gives you
great freedom - the freedom of taking your distances both from Western
clichés about Russia and from Russian propaganda.
Thanks to our
donors, we are completely independent in what we do, in where we go and
in how we present the work. We don’t need to worry about things like the
length of an article or about knowing if the subject fits into the
medium’s marketing strategy. We only care about one thing: we must find
the subject interesting.
It’s not only the choice of a subject in
which we have complete freedom: the output itself is completely open. We
produce books, photo albums, exhibitions, newspapers, Christmas cards,
posters and more. Everything we produce starts with the idea of telling a
story. Even the Christmas cards – in this case six cards in a
concertina booklet - tell a little background story about the Caucasus.
Limited edition, numbered and signed.