Beyond the smog: see the secret sanctuaries of Russia’s declining factory towns

Olya Ivanova shoots the private and intimate spaces hidden in the shadows of smokestacks in Russia's factory towns

1 May 2017

There are more than 1000 cities in Russia. 319 are “monotowns”, built around a single factory as part of Joseph Stalin’s ambitious Five-Year Plans, each conjuring a grey post-industrial landscape. Travelling around the Vladimir and Nizhny Novgorod regions — home to some factories, found in Volodarsk and Gorokhovets, that predate the Stalin-era — on assignment for Moscow’s Strelka institute, photographer Olya Ivanova was inspired to shoot these cities from a wholly new perspective. So she turned her lens on interiors that are usually dwarfed by smokestacks and high-rises in the media. For Habitat, she focused on public and institutional spaces which have been made-over by locals into private sanctuaries. While many of these cities are left neglected by the state, Ivanova’s photos celebrate the surface details, the little gestures of care — such as painting and decorating, and adding plants or a ping-pong table — made by the residents towards making their town habitable. “Soviet architecture has left lot of the same models of schools, sport halls, cultural clubs, hospitals and libraries around the country. Today people are using all their imagination and creativity in order to turn these public areas into human ones. My research is about the superiority of private over public, creativity over the faceless, human over the state,” Ivanova says.