New East Digital Archive

Urban pastoral: Seeing Moscow’s suburb’s in a new light

27 October 2016

Where do Muscovites go on a sunny day? The options for sun-seekers in the Russian capital are, it seems, limited. To create Pastoral 2008-2012, award-winning photographer Alexander Gronsky (Aperture Portfolio prize, Silver Camera Grand Prix) spent four years capturing the patches of grass and sand on the city’s periphery sought out by Muscovites — along with the towering apartment blocks, wires and cranes that thwart any attempt at Arcadian escape.

Gronsky, who was born in Estonia and now lives in Latvia, explores Moscow’s wastelands, neither urban nor rural, the peripheral areas on the outskirts of the city.

The sense of perspective and composition in his exquisitely composed large format images is deeply reminiscent of 18th and 19th-century European landscape painting.

On first glance the landscapes carry a sense of pastoral idyll, yet the details Gronsky documents undermine this.

People are caught sunbathing amid litter in industrial wastelands, and rolling hills are replaced with the mundane repetition of identically designed high-rise blocks.

These are places on the fringes, beyond the rules of the city.

The fact that these are isolated areas gives the images a heightened, almost dreamlike sense of voyeurism.

They show a glimpse into Russian life — vast and meaningless, ugly and dangerous, littered with bottles and metal.

Together, they show the longing for nature, as well as the impossibility of a true escape, that pervades one of Europe’s largest and most crowded cities.