In less than a week your TV set will start displaying the Winter Olympics on most channels and what you will see of the host town (Sochi, Russia) will very likely be a sanitized version.
If you want to see another side of Sochi, you could visit the photo exhibit The Sochi Project by Dutch photographer Rob Hornstra whose photos are provided a with context by Arnold van Bruggen’s texts. The exhibit currently runs in Antwerp, Belgium; Chicago, USA; and Salzburg, Austria. There are also books, websites, posters and so on. In fact, if I can utter a small point of criticism about Hornstra’s and Van Bruggen’s Russian projects, it would be that it is never quite clear what you’ve seen already and what fits where.
Last week I went to the Golden Years photo expo in Huis Marseille, Amsterdam, by the same two artists in which you also get to see photos of The Sochi Project. What struck me the most were the photos of people who proudly posed in their medal-bedecked, Soviet-era uniforms. It wasn’t clear whether they did so out of longing for the old days or because the uniforms were their good clothes or because of reasons I did not fathom, but it seemed a statement regardless. (Shown here is Mikhail Yefremovich Zetunyan, age 88 who lives in a village where 75% of the population was driven out by what I presume were Abkhazian freedom fighters.)
Van Bruggen writes about the impoverished side of Russia: “Here, in the neighbourhoods abandoned by the police, is where the other half live. They are the dark side of the success stories that filled the newspapers after Putin came to power. Maserati dealers in the centre of Moscow do not prove a country’s wealth; look, rather, at its provincial suburbs.”