Imperial Pomp Post-Soviet High-Rise
Frank Herfort remains fascinated by the uniquely shaped buildings that have seemed to sprout from the ground since the end of the Soviet era.
In documenting a unique Russian architectural phenomenon with its retrofuture angles and monolithic forms, the German photographer Frank Herfort has journeyed to the most remote areas of the former Soviet Union. Spending the years from 2009 to 2013, traveling all over Russia and the former Soviet territories, from metropolises to remote rural zones, he visited 20 cities to find the most ostentatious and bombastic of the odd mix of architectural formsHe captured the bizarre architecture of the post-Soviet era, a strangely ostentatious and bombastic architectural style that sprung up throughout the new republic and peaked in the 1990's in a stunning photographic sensibility and technique, which mixes film with digital, emphasizing sharp detail and color. What makes his work stand out is the juxtaposition of these curious futurist massive building against the somber surroundings of empty space, low brick residential space, miniaturized people (if there are any), or any unexpected object. Frank Herfort has an amazing eye for framing contrasts.
The force and magnitude of these buildings appears bizarre, pompous and exotic, it conflates the aesthetics of monumental Soviet architecture with the Western language of form seen in the twentieth century.
Totally unlike conventional urban photos, his images of monstrously massive buildings with an overwhelming presence seem to come from another time and dimension. All these buildings have sprung up as if from nowhere, backed by the new financial elite that formed after the Soviet Union crumbled. There’s no doing things by halves here – these buildings are all about pomp and circumstance and making a statement.
Towering over everything, these phantasmagorical structures look like something from a parallel universe. Between 2009 and 2013 Frank Herfort traveled across Russia and former Soviet republics like Kazakhstan, Azerbaidshan and Belarus. He traveled by plane, train and his beloved blue Volga car, that he purchased in Moscow, to the extreme edges of the country.
Imperial Pomp: Post Soviet High Rise
Herfort’s incredible photographs have been published in Imperial Pomp: Post Soviet High Rise (2013, Kerber), and all the structures together look more like a speculative vision of a surreal future than reality.
It conflates the aesthetics of monumental Soviet architecture with the Western language of form seen in the twentieth century. A fine selection of the 100 best photographs of these eye-catching structures are published in his book "Imperial Pomp - Post Soviet High-Rise."
After seven years I struck camp in Hamburg and traveled to Moscow. It was time to take new paths and explore new worlds. So I followed my intuition and traveled through the "Gate to the World” to the Russian capital. Europe’s largest city had always fascinated me, even though I had not yet seen it. Images of Soviet soldiers with their tanks in the streets, Pioneer scarves in the classroom, roll calls in front of the school building, and my mother’s stories of trips to Lake Baikal had left a considerable impression on my childhood. So I set out to discover with my own eyes the largest country in the world.
In the meanwhile, politics represented somewhat different ideals and objectives, and one midnight I arrived in the metropolis of the new Russia with the temperature at zero Fahrenheit.
From the start I was fascinated by the oversized, very colorful, and unusually shaped high-rises, which did not conform at all to the image in my mind. Yet somehow I had already realized that Russia would presumably not be all naked Olgas and Svetlanas, policemen with Kalashnikovs, brown bears with vodka glasses, crumbling nuclear power plants near Kiev, and Russian dolls.
On my extended tours through the urban region of Moscow I repeatedly encountered these particular high-rises, which seemed very exotic to me since I had never seen them before. At first I wasn’t sure whether I liked these skyscrapers, but the more of them I saw, the more I enjoyed the playful way they simply combined eras such as classicism, Stalinism, the avant-garde, and a touch of Lego. I found it refreshing to see different buildings that did not follow the call of Western architecture and that offered a decorated façade now and again instead of glass. These buildings, symbols of the new Russia, stand for this lightness of being, the forgetting of old times, and finding a new one.