Award of Excellence|
Panos for Geo Germany
"ZONE OF ABSOLUTE DISCOMFORT"
A three-part photo essay capturing the past, present and future of the Russian Arctic Russian bureaucrats call the Far North the “Zone of Absolute Discomfort” – an icy wasteland dotted with decrepit towns and villages that is awful to live in, but is just about habitable enough for its resources to be exploited. The photographs capture this unique region, where three centuries of Russian history collide into a devastating population and ecological crisis. The Russian Arctic for hundreds of years was home only to the herders. The Nenets live in chums (tents), uprooting and relocating themselves and their reindeer many times a year in temperatures that fall to -50C. When the Soviet government tried to force these nomads into collective farms, many were re-settled in apartment blocks. The photographer next explored the Far North’s urban areas. Though the prison camps were abandoned in the 1950s upon Stalin’s death, many former inmates chose to stay. The area boomed, for a while. Now, pollutants shock the landscape and its inhabitants. When the Soviet Union collapsed, Russia neglected to support the cities of the Arctic Circle, leaving people to languish in extreme conditions. As the photographer walked this dying landscape, secret police intimated him day and night. The Russian government is once again tempted to conquer the Far North. In the last decade scientists discovered billions of gallons of oil and gas trapped underneath the tundra, and Putin’s government commands Russian energy companies to usurp these resources and bully gas-hungry European neighbours. These oil and gas companies renewed the assault on the Nenet lifestyle. The indigenous herders who survived Soviet collectivisation now struggle against the pipelines that block their migration routes. The Russian military granted the photographer unprecedented access. The photo of the terminal, shot as the helicopter circled above the Arctic Ocean, offers a glimpse to the Arctic’s future.
A colony of tents, or "chums", belonging to Nenets herders stand in the Arctic tundra in the Russian Nenets Autonomous Region. The are the original people living in the Russian Arctic, before being crushed by Soviet collectivisation and affected by modern oil and gas exploration.