ZATO by Sergey Novikov

ZATO, what a strange acronym! When looking on internet, we find the explanation : закрытые административно-территориальные образования ЗАТО, zakrytye administrativno-territorial’nye obrazovaniya : ZATO. So, there is only one letter away with that other famous acronym that refers us to this period of the twentieth century that was the Cold War: NATO (just rotate the N a quarter turn).


In his work Sergey takes us to his homeland Russia, in the footsteps of the former USSR. ZATO are closed cities. That means closed to anyone from outside. These cities were considered classified places and therefore off the radars, even for Russians. Weapons factories were found there, or nuclear enrichment or strategic factories, and moreover everything that had to remain secret. These cities were protected by a wall and had severely restricted access, inhabitants were not allowed to mention their places of living. Since the opening of the eastern countries, restrictions are not as stringent, but access to these places is still regulated. One need a formal invitation from a resident to get there. Well, you better read the complete story in Sergey’s book…


I really like the approach chosen by Sergey Novikov. It is not question here of a documentary in the traditional form (or to better say, an old style form) : Sergey has not gone to one of these cities to make the photos; and the narration going on here, is completely staged. The book consists of two parts. In the first, Sergey strives to represent the closed cities. He staged situations, creating a halfway space between reality and his own imagination developed from memories and stories told. The photographs are symbolic thus have a lot more strength. What are the limits of documentary photography and its so-called objectivity, would it be an illusion? Before him, others such as Jeff Wall have worked the idea of representation. If photography has its limits, so why not get rid of this objectivity to take sides. The bias of the author who says things, not with distance, but with appropriation (cf. on this subject Jeff Wall’s photograph entitled “dead troops talk” about a fight scene during the Afghanistan War).


This first part is superb, each photo is a canvas. The characters are frozen, as stopped in a time-space that one seeks to understand. The photos come with a short caption that explains the context and situation. Each situation appears assumed and some characters catch our gaze, seeming say “and then …”. The situation of people living in these cities illustrates the paradox of the whole Russia: a mixed sense of confinment faced with the pride of belonging to something greater, to the point that these inhabitants are fiercely opposed to the opening of these cities. Which, of course, refers to the dilemma between security and freedom: to what extent are we ready to sacrifice our freedom for a small gain in safety. These closed cities are, on average, cleaner and safer than other Russian cities, so why let coming hordes of potentially dangerous individuals that could destabilize this precarious balance.


This is what is mentioned in the second part of the book. The layout completely changes, the sobriety of the beginning gives way to unbridled collages. Sergey offers us the testimonies of experiences related to these cities. People who wanted to go there or inhabitants, shown through real elements such as pictures commissioned from photographers living inside, as to prove that these cities exist. These images act as counterpoints to the first part. They do not have the same visual qualities but they reflect reality. They reveal nothing more than the appearance of these places, similar in every way to other Russian cities. And we understand, here, that despite this reality effect, images from the beginning have told us a lot more. The book ends on excerpts from social medias. Introduced by a photograph that shows the hashtag #ZatoLove, Sergey lists all the evidence that people are strongly opposed, even violently, at the opening of their cities.


ZATO was self published in 2016 in a first edition of 50 copies which are already sold out. A second print run of 25 copies will be available soon. Softcover, digital print, 21 x 28 cm, 56 pages. Texts in Russian and English.

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And an interview :

Remaining copies can be found here :[L]=0&tx_ttproducts_pi1[backPID]=157&tx_ttproducts_pi1[product]=721


Right time right place, by Robert Rutöd


There is something refreshing in Robert Rutöd’s book : his way of looking at the world. A kind of positivism a bit ridiculous, that we had forgotten with the relative demise of the popular genre in the twentieth century, of street photography. With his camera, Robert tracks down small daily incongruities. The subject is not always obvious, it may need to check twice the image to discover a second degree.


The book is full of situations of “déjà vu”, which make them easy to identify with. One has the impression of having already lived this scene, elsewhere, in another time! Robert’s work could be seen like the pause button in the movie of life. One way to focus on a detail and stop the time, just for a moment and say: look how it’s silly! An image freeze to measure the reality effect associated with photography. The “it was” telling us the absurdity of the skier staring at the slope where only remains a tiny trace of snow, or these characters locked in a glass bubble, among rabbits enjoying freedom around them.


Like any book, especially in the world of self publishing, this book is also a form of self-portrait. It tells us a lot about the author, on his way to look around. Let go of photographers in a city for a week and you will get as many views of the city as photographers, which would even give the impression that they were not in the same place. But it is precisely about Robert’s book: being at the right place at the right time … or vice versa!


Published in 2015 by Behindscreen. 120 pages, 55 color photographs, 21 x 24 cm. Print run: 300 copies. Red metal foil embossed hard cover, thread binding. Foreword by Aline Smithson.

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Tobiko, by Gabriele Harhoff

What a strange name that little word « Tobiko ». My first reaction was to googlize it : it means « flying fish roe », as mentioned in the back of the book. A food popular in Japan, especially for the production of sushi. But what is most amusing are the photos found associated with this word: small piles of eggs with incredible colors. Originally, the eggs are orange, but we find some green, flavored with wasabi, black, with squid ink, or orange-red tainted with soy. Well, it is a festival of color. And thus, knowing Gabriele, we understand the reason for the title of this book. Her first book was titled Pelikan, from the boxes of the famous brand of water painting for children. Let’s bet this one will also deal with color matters…


Gabriele is what can be called a colorist. The colorful pattern prevails over all other considerations. After a previous work in Thailand and Malaysia, she now, turns her camera to Japan where she realized the photographs for this book, mainly in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. But what I especially appreciate in Gabriele’s work, is the delicacy and subtlety of her use of color. Her work remains delicate, as these little fish eggs. What stands out is both vibrant saturated colors and tranquility of desaturated monochrome, enhanced with a touch of light or shades of gray …


To guide us, Gabriele has added to her book a little map of the Tokyo subway. Entirely in Japanese, it is impossible for a foreigner to understand anything whatsoever! But it rather works as a color-code to help our moves. It uses the same colors that are in the photos and one wonders if it is possible to find a scheme, if this work would not be, finally a stroll through the streets of Tokyo, with for sole guide, not the language, but the color.


Gabriele manages remarkably well to give us back the atmosphere of the city. We see no monuments, no spectacular sights, but the everyday world of Tokyo inhabitants. Little things we see every day which gradually disappear from our eyes. Far from any anecdote, we walk the city aimlessly. Our attention is drawn to an object on a piece of wall. The city is petrified, it seems deserted and the only characters that are crosses stood still like statues, frozen in a pose that seems eternal. It is not known if they live in the city or have been left behind in a polite waiting in front of a pedestrian crossing, transforming themselves in a sort of urban furniture.


It should finally be noted that this book is beautifully handcrafted. The folds and binding are of a Japanese elegance. 56 copies only, then there will not be for everyone!

« Tobiko » is published in an edition of 56, signed and numbered. 31 x 23 cm, French fold, hand bound with Japanese stab binding, digitally printed on 150 g Profimatt.

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Read Gabriela’s review :