I usually don’t agree with the smart-alecky overread leftish folks who start crying “Orientalism! Orientalism!” whenever they see travelogues and anthropological essays “from the real Russia” like this one, but here I am tempted to join them.
I am also astonished the editors at the Guardian don’t understand the difference between “brutal” living and “brutalist” architecture, of which per se there is no more in Petersburg than anywhere else in the world.
This is not to mention that “dvors” (courtyards) usually don’t have “rooftops,” at least not in this regional ruin-porn capital.
More importantly, self-avowed “urban decay” devotees like the whiz-bang art photographer from the Guardian are sorely missing out on the much more interesting and inspiring, but infinitely more complex and often tragic story of how the city’s residents have been fighting at the grassroots over the past ten years to preserve its classical, spectacular skylines and numerous architectural treasures as well as the often pleasantly green courtyards in its non-neoclassical, “brutalist” districts. But to tell that story you have to see Petersburgers as more than disempowered, colorful props in your personal post-ideological, neo-romantic visual fantasy.
At some point, art—and solidarity—means putting down the camera. Or pointing it in a direction other than immiseration and defeat. Such angles exist in abundance everywhere, even in lowly Petersburg. // TRR
Photos by the Russian Reader
Here are a few glimpses of the real modern city of Petersburg and the people who have been fighting for it.
- Richard Setbon and Evgeny Rudnii, Eviction on Millionaires’ Street, Al Jazeera, January 31, 2012
- Sergey Chernov, “Garden Standoff Enters 2nd Week,” St. Petersburg Times, June 24, 2008
- Dmitry Vorobyev and Thomas Campbell, “The Gazprom Tower: Everything Changes for the Better,” Chto Delat, July 2010
- “The End of Saint Petersburg, or the Beauties of ‘Kettling,'” Chtodelat News, October 8, 2009
- “How Things Were Done in Petersburg: The Destruction of Submariners Garden,” Chtodelat News, July 24, 2008