Photographer Frank Herfort has spent over a decade in Russia, tracing the mystery and myth of the world’s largest country. Following his highly acclaimed illustrated book entitled ‘Imperial Pomp: Post-Soviet High-Rise’, his latest book of 88 photos published by Kerber now combines everyday scenes and observations full of melancholic realism. His goal has never been to photograph topics as reportages but instead tells a story using only one photo, giving the viewer plenty of room for interpretation.
“His photographs of the wondrously surreal post-Soviet world are mesmerizing, cool, and thought provoking but, above all, they are strikingly human. In every image, the people, everyday situations, architectures, and events tell their own individual stories. Yet seen together, they weave a fascinating fairy tale with a very contemporary twist.” the publisher tells us about the book. Frank presents us his highlights here on GoSee. On his website, there are also editions which can be ordered from him directly as high-end prints.
Even if the photos all have their own stories to tell, we would like to take you to the beginnings of the project on a trip to Moscow, the Paris of the East, together with Frank – 20 years ago when the winters were still real winters...
“It all started in the cloakroom of the Moscow State Kremlin Palace in 2000 where I took my first photograph in Russia on my first trip to the country. A friend invited me for a two week holiday visit to Moscow. This was a very magic time, and I was fascinated by all the sceneries and stories which played out in the city. The snow, the cold, the people, the gray, the dirt, the furs, the girls, the Ladas, the glam, the poor, the rich, the chaos – and the lightness and good-natured mentality of the Russians. I knew that I would come back again.
But several years passed, and I had almost finished my photography studies in Hamburg and London when I got a call from a friend who was working in Moscow. I spoke with him on the phone for 20 minutes. During the conversation, it felt like Moscow was calling me. I left my 12-sqm London-Hackney apartment (which is now a really cool place), made a detour to Hamburg to pick up my personal belongings, and quickly sublet my apartment. I met Misha, my native-speaking Russian assistant, packed a lot of photo equipment (too much), and bought a set of snow tire chains for the trip to the East. It was a time when winters were still winters, and with every 100 km I travelled eastward, the temperature dropped another 1 degrees Celcius. No more than three weeks went by, and I met an almost frozen Robert, the guy I had called from London, at minus 18 degrees in a completely snow-covered Moscow.
After my first real visit to Moscow for three months in 2005, I developed my shooting style for this series and worked entirely on my Sinar 4x5 inch and Hasselblad cameras, using my super heavy Profoto Lighting Kit. I loved all the public interiors and the people in them so I checked out every corner and location in Moscow. At this time, I didn’t speak a word of Russian, but I loved just listening to it. For me, it has always been the French of the East. But I could not continue depending on translation the whole time, I’m just too impatient to wait until the translation is finished. And honestly, Russian and English translation are two different worlds. So today, I even speak Russian. Which is really helpful because you can use it from East Berlin to Japan and from the North Pole to Afghanistan.
After a while, I received more and more photo assignments in Russia for international magazines and also for local advertising campaigns. So I left Germany in 2007 and moved to Moscow. Nobody could understand that because all of my fellow students went to New York, Paris or to trendy Berlin. But yes, I love a good challenge and decided on Moscow, where I permanently lived and worked until 2013.
Over the last 15 years, I used almost every free minute, between my commercial work, to discover and photograph new stories for my project. At the beginning, I just photographed everything that was interesting and exotic to me and didn’t think about making a series or reportage let alone a book out of it. I was always interested in shooting single photographs, which show their own worlds and tell their own stories in one single image. For me, the classical reportage style wasn’t very exciting, where you photograph 30 images, but actually always show the same. I think you can tell a story much better by showing just one image and skip what comes before, after and in between. For me, this is photography, the art of using just one frame. Using your imagination and fantasy. This was and still is my concept for creating my images.
So after a while, I compiled these pictures and noticed that, despite the different subjects, there is still a big and complete picture about Russia. At that moment, I called the work ‘Russian Fairy Tales’. I actually use the old version ‘fairytales’ because I like it more, and kept working on the series with this idea. I think ‘fairytales’ fits my pictures because the Russian soul of life describes them well. No matter how difficult life is or how many problems it creates, it is always presented beautifully and colorfully and usually has a happy end. While on a shoot for ID magazine, I met another foreign photographer, who was shooting an ad campaign for Lada cars in the backyard of his studio. In the end, I fell in love with his assistant, who later become my wife, and this is how my own Russian fairy tales started. I just took my last photographs for this book in December 2019. Up until now, I have been living in Moscow and Berlin and travel the world for different projects.”
Coralie Kraft, The New Yorker, on the project: “This project is also about the bizarre and inexplicable events that often occur in life – the moments that are not always easy to understand. Each image in this series stands alone and tells its own story, but together, they seem to tell a whole fairy tale.”
Francesca Cronan, LensCulture : “An ambiguous journey through the beauty, benevolence and the in-between – cinematic, dream-like shots of Russia.”