Six stories from the Russian North
Cold mountain
Alexander Gronsky's lens turns an industrial city into an unlikely Arctic Arcadia

Russia’s northern cities are a triumph of will; grand settlements in the middle of snow and darkness where people are dwarfed by the outsized factories they’ve built and helpless next to the industrial waste those factories create. Photographer Alexander Gronsky’s images of Norilsk seem both close to reality and something out of a dream. In his photos the city is an industrial wasteland where frozen hills are littered with scrap metal. But at the same time it is a place of heart-wrenching almost Arcadian beauty. A place of pale skies and metallic rivers.

Norilsk is the second biggest city in the Arctic Circle.

Located in the north of Siberia, the city stands on the largest nickel deposits on Earth.

Norilsk is the centre of a large mining region where copper, cobalt, platinum, palladium and coal are also extracted.

Residents take shelter from harsh conditions in towering apartment blocks.

Nickel ore smelted in the city causes severe pollution, acid rain and smog.

Alexander Gronsky travelled to Norilsk in 2013 after finishing Pastoral, his four-year long photographic study of the outskirts of Moscow.

“Gronsky is a landscape photographer at heart,” says critic Mikhail Iampolski.

“His skillful use of perspective and talent for composition lead the observer’s eye deeply into the landscape.”

Gronsky’s Norilsk seems both close to reality and something out of a dream.

His images, says Iampolski, “generate a sense of astonishment in every place he portrays”.

Courtesy of Gronsky, the harsh industrial landscape takes on an Arcadian beauty.

Text: Anastasiia Fedorova
Image: Alexander Gronsky