“I started wondering what it feels like living on the edges of such a vast country as Russia … where does the physical and emotional feeling of belonging come from?” It was this question that photographer Maria Gruzdeva felt compelled to answer and what inspired her five-year long journey along the “remote and often undiscovered” borders of her home nation. “It was something I knew I had to do,” she explains.
Documenting a maritime and land border that spans over 60,000km is something that required a lot of research and planning; some parts of the country aren’t as accessible as others and varying seasonal conditions had to be accounted for.
With an eye on the larger goal of the project, Gruzdeva had to break the journey down into smaller trips. While the travel and logistics were pre-arranged, the exact outcome wasn’t – “I believe in the notion of chance,” says Gruzdeva. “Even if [these] pictures look quite planned, they are often instinctive at the same time.”
The resulting body of work has the spontaneity of an introspective travelogue which has, in retrospect, been combed through and presented with curatorial finesse; each chapter focussing on a different region.
The handwritten notes Gruzdeva scribbled while on her travels are also featured in the book – offering an insight into the way her journey unfolded and her observations at the time. Though originally written in Russian, some of these passages have been revisited and translated into English, giving context to the photographs they accompany.
Even before the book’s release, this photo series won Gruzdeva the Gabriele Basilico prize for architecture and landscape photography. During the judging process she proposed another research-intensive photography project – the documentation of the effects of coal mining on the land and people of Tkvarcheli in the Abkhazia region of the Caucasus – which she is now working on.
Lead image: Cityscape, Sovetsk, Kaliningrad Oblast.
All images © Maria Gruzdeva/Schilt Publishing