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

The sociology of football : An unconditional love, by Alex Ingram and FC Volga United by Sergey Novikov

In the mid seventies, as a teenager, one of my biggest concern was football, particularly because, in France, it was the glorious time of « Les verts » the football team of Saint Etienne which gained access, in 1976, to the final of what was then the equivalent of the European champions league. I with my friends had a crazy spring time watching all matches until the last one versus the Bayern who defeated St Etienne 1-0. In those days, every spare moment was dedicated to play with a ball or… to collect Panini stickers and save them in a, seasons after seasons, never finished album. I discovered recently that, nowadays you can buy the missing vignettes from their internet site, clever business !


« Un unconditional love » could have been, at least in the first part, my own story and that’s probably why I like it so much. What Alex Ingram shows us here is the true and honest passion an amateur could have for football in its more noble consideration.

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The book is organised around what could be the story of someone. It opens with black and white photos of kids playing in fields, backyard houses. We instantly recognize the English greyness which remind the film Kes by Ken Loach : here the bird is replaced by a ball, but the young boy has real similarities with Billy Casper. So when the « film » begins with the first pictures we’re caught by the story.

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Then we move a little further, times are changing and photos are now in color. We follow the teenager, having his first official team shirt, playing his debut matches in front of a couple of spectators, in some almost deserted stadia with not nets for the goals and a burger van for restaurant. All those sequences interlaced so we never really know if we follow one single person or if we have different characters who interact.

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The middle part of the book is dedicated to the memories. Of course here are the Panini vignettes which alternate with contemporary photographs shot in studio by Alex Ingram. The confrontation turns to a funny mixture. The old photos are incredibly dated 70’s while the studio photos are modern young women standing in sport suits, showcasing the evolution of this sport which was mainly, or even only, a male game in the 70’s. There is a great attention to the use of color and black and white which emphasizes the passing of time. Amongst the collections of photographs we found some old black and white pictures « from the archives », photos from the 70’s are grainy and faded while the recent ones are bright and colorful. It is in the middle of this section that comes an essay by Senior Lecturer in Sociology David Green who explains his equivocal love for Liverpool team but more generally for football.

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To stay on the tracks of the amateurism, the third part is about supporters. We follow them down the streets, wearing scarves, drinking beers, shouting loud or staring sad, depending on the occasion. We meet people alone but also crowds, people chating or watching religiously, respectful or kidding… This is a portrait of the humankind in its glory and decadence. This is what makes all human being lovable with his strengths and weaknesses. We meet babies, young fellows and elderly people, all generations share the same passion for football. Well… This is England !

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What is not the less remarkable with this body of work is that nowadays many photographers work on autobiography which is not the case here. Alex has never been a football fan and his work has much to be considered in a documentary style. He was intrigued by the sociological aspects of football in England and focused around his hometown Bristol. In this work, there is a direct filiation with some famous English documentary photographers Daniel Meadows, Chris Killip, Paul Graham (early years) or more recently Ken Grant or Jim Mortram, amongst many others.

Softcover book, 21 x 28 cm, design by Yee Poon, 118 pages, self published in a first edition of 10. A second edition is already planned. Published in 2015.

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This book remind me another very good one published a few years ago. It is called « FC Volga United », by Sergey Novikov. Despite the fact that they are very different, they share a lot. The topic of Sergey’s book is the football clubs all along the Volga river which all got an FC Volga name.

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The book comprises three kind of photographs : portraits of players standing on the field and staring proudly to the camera, photos of the Volga river in the nearby area and pictures of the stadia with their surrounding environment and where a competition takes place. Between photos we found texts about the ambiance before, during and after the matches which explain the context with sentences heard around the stadium.

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In this book again, what is magnified is the amateurism and the passion for a game. And maybe for us in the Western world, there are some more resonnances due to the magical evocation of the Volga River amongst which is the Red Army Chorus singing the Volga Boatmen or some cinematographic reminiscences from Alexander Nevsky in Nizhny Novgorod.

FC Volga United is a small softcover book, 13,5 x 21 cm, 60 pages. The first edition was limited to 25 and came with a small 10 x 15 cm print. A second edition is available. Published in 2011.

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All images copryright Alex Ingram and Sergey Novikov.