New East Digital Archive
Unreal city
Moscow's suburbs as you've never seen them before

Photographer Dmitry Lookianov started documenting his neighbourhood on the outskirts of Moscow in 2013. After spending a lot of time travelling around Russia (for his project DKdance) he returned to focus on the routine day-to-day life at the edges of the big city. He soon realised, however, that the images he was creating had much more to do with the future than the present. Instant Tomorrow is his vision of a far-off future seen through the looking glass of a Moscow suburb.

“I began by photographing my neighbourhood: the most typical and mundane district at the edge of Moscow which has nothing but tower blocks, parking lots and ugly malls,” remembers Lookianov. “At first it was just architecture and cityscapes but then I started shooting interiors, observing and studying the objects in contemporary living spaces.”

Lookianov captures with absolute precision the alienating effect of a typical Moscow sleeping district: the endless rows of identical tower blocks and identical flats suggesting identical lives for their inhabitants. Lookianov’s characters are not unhappy but seem slightly dazed in their utopian dream. Looking out to the distant horizon, illuminated by the cold light of their smartphones and TVs, his subjects seem trapped in a comfortable world of flats and malls where everything is easily available.

“When you live in one of these districts, it’s hard not to notice how the urban environment is becoming more and more depersonalised. Districts made of ready-made architecture, which are cheap and quick to build, where everthing is exactly the same — I think the word ‘instant’ reflects it very well,” explains Lookianov. “Here, everything is instant: from the objects, food, daily routines, to words and ideas. I am inspired by the banality of life: the trips to the supermarket, the doctor, the fitness centre, the beauty salons; the same routes, the same scenery, the labyrinths of make-up aisles in the malls, TV ads and so on. I drew a lot of inspiration from books and films: I read Jean Baudrillard, Luis Mamford, Boris Groys, the Strugatsky brothers, and watched films by Ulrich Zaidl and Roy Anderson.”

The key colour of the series is white — neutral, clean, and at times cold. “I found that the interiors I shot were predominantly white or pale in colour, minimal, almost empty, and very sterile. However, the snowy cityscapes stripped of colours and details fit the project really well, reducing the elements in the cityscape, creating a feeling of artificial architectural models,” says Lookianov.

As the colour of most advanced gadgets, white represents the future but is also the colour associated with the afterlife. It goes well with strange spirituality: Orthodox icons, ceremonial gestures, ritualistic-looking beauty masks. “There is definitely a place for spirituality in my imaginary future — but even this is instant,” the photographer explains. “Quick-to-erect malls with a quick-to-assemble church just next door, and the church has quick, easy and instant spirituality tips. A shrine from IKEA is filled with cheap plastic icons and make-up. Face masks symbolise a faith in the beauty industry which becomes almost religious.”

Photography: Dmitry Lookianov
Interview: Anastasiia Fedorova

Read more

Inside the zone

Otherworldly scenes from a Russian film set

On the edge

How Alexander Gronsky explores the limits of photography

Ice bloc

The brutalist beauty of the post-Soviet northern city