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A Closer Look: Kiev

Kiev from The Sochi Project
Kiev, the latest in the sketchbook series from the on-going Sochi Project by Rob Hornstra and Arnold van Bruggen, features images taken by Hornstra with a 1970s Kiev camera. A gift from a friend in Sochi, the Ukrainian built medium-format SLRs were known for being almost exact clones of pricier models, but also for Soviet-era manufacturing defects. My dad actually had one of these cameras. As a child, I was intrigued by its size and Soviet-sounding name. For Hornstra, the appeal lay in photographing Sochi with a camera that had seen it in the 1970s and how such a camera can change the act of seeing.

Kiev from The Sochi Project

The cardstock book is contained within a cardboard wrapper printed with images taken by the Kiev on the outside. Inside, the gray paper contains a parts diagram of the camera. On the thick pages of the book are well-printed beautiful images from Sochi -- the waterfront promenade, beach goers, small scenes of the tourist area. They have a special quality to them, a timelessness from the act of shooting contemporary scenes with older equipment. Despite the obvious summer heat, the images feel cool with overcast skies and crisp bright whites and communicate a very solid sense of place. But as one flips through the book, it's hard not to be distracted by something strange happening at the sides of the images -- the very edge of the next photograph creeps into the frame. After a few days of shooting, Hornstra discovered that the camera had a defect in the film transport mechanism.

Kiev from The Sochi Project

For their multi-year slow journalism project documenting the transformations of Sochi Russia to an Olympic venue for the 2014 games, Hornstra has been shooting on film. In Kiev's thoughtful essay, he digs in to the well-worn digital vs analog debate, defending his preference for analog, but also admitting to doubts. "Every trip we make for The Sochi Project costs us the equivalent of a digital SLR in material and development expenses," the essay states. That's not an expense that can be taken lightly, particularly for a project that is largely reliant on donations. These are not the photographs that Hornstra expected, but this is the second book published by The Sochi Project that gets mileage from the malfunctions or quirks of analog photographic technology -- the other being Safety First, that featured images damaged by the nearly omnipresent x-ray scanners in the Chechen capital of Grozny. Given the power of these books, I have to agree with Hornstra's decision; the success of both isn't simply a matter of turning lemons into lemonade. The physical weaknesses of analog technology make for metaphorical advantages, and The Sochi Project has managed to find poetic expressions in the chaos of life. "The power of analogue photography is the unpredictability, the imperfection, the setbacks that are initially so frustrating, but ultimately add unexpected dimension to the images."

Kiev from The Sochi Project

Kiev from The Sochi Project
It seems to follow that a photographer enamored with the object he uses in his practice would also take special care in crafting the vehicle for his art -- this book is a fine example. At first glance it seems like an accordion fold, but a few pages in it becomes apparent that it is something else. Constructed from a single sheet of cardstock, the book completely unfolds. Once unfolded, the images can be viewed like a contact sheet, the formerly anonymous bleeding edges from other photographs are matched with their original image. On the reverse, the image of pink flowers (that hides under the text pages in the book) is reproduced on a large scale, sections of which provide the cover images and peek through as you page through the book. With its playful design and engaging essay, this is a special book from The Sochi Project -- the elements work well together to create something that stands just at the edge of the project, looking outward to the challenges of art making. -- Sarah Bradley

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