“The Soviet economy was organised according to five-year plans, with the whole country operating like an enormous corporation,” writes architectural critic Konstantin Budarin in the foreword to the newly-published Monotowns. Featuring post-industrial Russian cities from the Arctic Circle to the Far East, Monotowns is a photo portrait of urban settlements designed around a single industry — and, perhaps most importantly, what happens to its inhabitants when those industries are in decay. “Monotowns were like different departments within this corporation. If the factory isn’t going well, it puts the whole city in danger. And a lot of these factories aren’t doing well,” says Budarin.
With atmospheric photographs of both architecture and daily life scenes by Alexander Veryovkin, and texts by David Navarro and Martyna Sobecka from Zupagrafika, Monotowns provides an insight into industrial cities’ utopian dreams, failures, and successes.
“We perceive the buildings and housing complexes featured in our books as the anti-heroes of modern architecture,” says independent publisher Zupagrafika, who brought the book to life.
In 130 photographs divided into nine chapters, one per town, Monotowns captures the landscapes of Vorkuta, Mirny, Norilsk, Kirovsk, Tolyatti, Cherepovets, Magnitogorsk, Monchegorsk, and Nikel, all urban settlements built around a single industry, mostly mining.
“While shooting for Monotowns, the coldest city was Vorkuta,” explains Veryovkin. “The pictures [...] were taken over a two-year period during winter time, with temperatures reaching -35 degrees Celsius in some locations. Sometimes the camera would freeze to the photographer’s face.”
Vorkuta, a coal-mining town and the former location of a Soviet gulag, is surrounded by 13 satellite settlements forming the “Vorkuta Ring”, but most of their inhabitants are being relocated to the city centre due to depopulation — one of the pressing issues in monotowns that the book’s photographs seek to capture.
You can pre-order the book here.