In everyday life, the colour white is often conferred in artificial pigments, usually titanium dioxide. In nature, it is the colour of chalk, milk, coconut. In Russia, it is certainly the colour of fresh snow. And if snapshots of pristine Russian wilderness have become a postcard staple, snow-white cityscapes are still rare: the urban winter landscape is usually spoiled by chaotic outdoor advertising and melting chemicals that turn snow into a spectrum of orange-brown mud and sludge. Siberia-based photographer Roma Gostev was able to capture his city of Nizhnevartovsk amid untouched, snow-coated serenity, turning snapshots of daily life into a visual ode to a single colour.
“Snow is like the cosmos itself. It makes objects appear as if soaring in the air,” says Gostev. “Winters here are so long. Basically I had no other choice but to photograph whiteness.” In Gostev’s photographs, the pre-fab panel high-rises, golden domes, power stations, old buses, and street kiosks of the Soviet-era industrial town appear in stark contrast to the perfect white of their surroundings, almost resembling online shopping catalogue with objects carefully placed upon a blank background.
This seemingly still and sterile world of Nizhnevartovsk, however, is still bursting with life. Juxtapositions stand at the core of Gostev’s urban chronicles. A woman dressed as Russia’s own yuletide character, the snow-maiden, crosses the road. A man in an old-fashioned fur hat walks through a birch grove. A pack of stray dogs emerge from deep fog. Each image has its own story to tell, but Gostev admits he never has any conceptual plan or series in mind — all of his cinematic characters appeared “out of sheer luck”.
Gostev’s white universe is also peppered with metal — he transforms the bleak industrial structures of Nizhnevartovsk, such as sheds, fences, and the facades of the ubiquitous P-44 high-rises, into their own cyberpunk fable, bathed in a sunset glow. He also has a sharp eye for spotting where Russia’s hyper-nationalism collides with reality, including a barbed-wire fence painted in the national colours, or a broken Russian flag on a pole made of birch.