In search of connection: the photographer who captured the decadence and conflict of Russia’s turbulent 2010s

14 August 2020

A lot of photographers have tried to capture the peculiarities of Russia’s day-to-day life, but no-one does quite like Konstantin Tishshe. The Ural-based independent photographer documents the ambivalent reality of the 2010s and the unconventional beauty of coming of age in Russia’s outskirts. The teenagers he documents — idealist, quixotic and lost — are in constant search of connection, whether through a smartphone or at wild house parties.

He started his eponymous Tishshe almost a decade ago, when he turned to photography in an attempt to capture the decadence, idealism, resistance, and social conflict he encountered both in his hometown of Beryozovsky — a small industrial town close to the Ural city of Yekaterinburg — and across the country as a whole. He started by sharing his photos on Russian social networking site VK, only to see his account become an unflattering archive of the 2010s: “a decade of tanks, fireworks, innovation and icons,” he says. In 2016, he began compiling his images into annual short clips, before finally releasing his crowdfunded mockumentary The Club of Unemployment and Public Humiliation earlier in July.

Tishshe, the Russian word for “be quiet”, is an appropriately sarcastic response to the oppression that takes place in Russia. “The concept of a foreign enemy, propagandised by the Russian authorities, is manifested in ubiquitous fences that turn the streets into prison corridors of some sort. Fences and gates are details of a bigger system, the inhabitable fear,” Tishshe comments.

This kind of unhuman urbanism is typical of Tishshe’s hometown Beryozovsky, a Soviet-era industrial satellite city. Once an outpost for gold extraction, it is now a suburb dotted with high-rise residential blocks. “If I was born in the USSR, I would probably be perfectly happy here in Beryozovsky. I’d work as an engineer, or as an artisan in the House of Culture,” Tishshe says.

But young Russians now dream in a different way, and Beryozovsky is no longer enough. “[Kids here] aim for success, and it feels fast and reachable. But when expectations are higher, so is the competition, and that leads to a new kind of conflict,” he says.

Tishshe was in Berezovsky when Russia’s opposition-led Bolotnaya protests broke out in 2011. Back then, the photographer was not engaged in politics. But it later became clear to him that these youthful protests defined much the decade to come. “By the end of 2010s, a new, privileged social group was forming — activists. The likes of Pussy Riot nurtured an activism that is now thriving in the country,” he says. Protesters, he says, are no longer quite so isolated: “everyone with a smartphone has a right to speak out and has learnt how to do it.”

The youthful energy that took to the streets in 2013 is now being channelled by a new generation. On 1 July this year, constitutional amendments were passed in Russia allowing President Putin to remain in power for another 16 years. But while the changes have already been passed, for young Russians, the game is not over, Tishshe says. “With the Internet we don’t lack information, but we do lack the will to check into the truth. And me — I’m looking for cracks, that’s where the truth squeezes in.”

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