A guide to the New East
New East 100

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Hassan Kurbanbaev

The Uzbek photographer capturing the essence of Moscow

Hassan Kurbanbaev uses photography as a tool to better understand his surroundings. He started by documenting his hometown of Tashkent, exploring the rich fabric of the Uzbek capital and talking to the country’s emerging generation. For his next series, he travelled to Moscow, a city which — although the photographer had never lived there — had always felt familiar to him, not least because of its architecture and language. Here, he talks about his impressions of and changing appreciation for the Russian capital.

I wanted each new project I shoot to be in a new city, a new environment. I’m fascinated by the world and photography lets me study its horizons and explore new themes. I don’t differentiate my work by genre. I’m interested in very varied things, from documentary to experimental work to fashion shoots.

So it happened that I started shooting Moscow for multiple reasons. I’ve always wanted to live in the city, to live in Russia. I consider Russian to be my native language but I’ve never lived in this country. Apart from this, perhaps — and many other people would agree — today Russia is entering into a new era.

Right now, Russia to me is a rather surreal concept. I spent a few weeks here in March and then returned in the height of summer. This is my first experience spending a considerable amount of time in Moscow; I’ve been here before but just for couple of days.

I photographed Tashkent rather randomly; here in Moscow I had more precise ideas about how to shoot a city. You know, I found the city in period of reconstruction. Moscow changes its appearance: it’s renovated and rebuilt on a large scale; many of the buildings are covered in curtains which gives the feeling that you’re witnessing a kind of outdoor performance.

Here, Soviet architecture, the sullen faces of the elderly and those of the authorities, modern infrastructure and a new generation of Muscovites all seem to intertwine. Moscow is the existence of multiple worlds and epochs within one time interval. It seems eternal and it’s not easy to understand the essence of the city. This series is not meant as reportage; this is my observation of Moscow in this moment.

I met someone recently who told me that Muscovites will never tell you something good or positive if they can help it — they are not so optimistic at first sight. Perhaps she is right. But Muscovites can be really cool. I have made a lot of new friends here — they are really great, even too ironic sometimes.

Text and image: Hassan Kurbanbaev

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