Early in 2013 I was commissioned by Carpet Bombing Culture to photograph the abandoned buildings of the former Soviet Union and its Satellite states. I travelled to 10 countries in Eastern Europe, The Baltic’s, Ukraine and of course Russia to capture what is left from the collapse of the Soviet Union such as forgotten towns, factories, prisons, schools, monuments, hospitals, theatres, military complexes, asylums & death camps across the former communist countries and occupied satellite states. I even came across a Soviet submarine in the UK.
Whilst some may look at the decay in these places as simply reflecting the destruction of the Soviet Union and the moral bankruptcy of a flawed ideological system. In reality they will cease to exist very soon and as the memories fade, these places and the communities who once gave life will be forgotten and deserve to be recorded for posterity too.
In 2006 I began experimenting with photography, taking photos of models during my degree in Graphic Design and then on leaving university I got a full time job a portrait studio, where I worked for 4 years, during which time I set up a small home studio and started photographing models. I did a master degree in fashion photography at The London College of Fashion and graduated in 2010. I worked as a freelance fashion photographer for a couple of years, but always had a feeling that it wasn’t quite for me, I loved photographing beautiful things, but felt constrained by working for clients, deadlines and magazine specifications, with a lot of stress involved. My work has always had a dark nature to it, the beauty in darkness will be a theme that carries on throughout all I do.
I don’t find these places scary in anyway, in fact I feel safer in a place untouched by humans where only nature prevails then in the really bustling, hectic world where humans rush around in the chaos that is life. When in abandoned buildings I feel relaxed and I turn off from the stresses of everyday life. Some people ask me if I am fearful of ghosts or bad people being in the buildings but I guess I just dont feel this, when I enter a building I turn off to emotions like that and I all I can think about is creating images. I want to capture the beauty I see and feel in that photo, I want to make the viewer feel how I felt while in the space. The things we hone in on are things with emotional attachment or just something that looks so beautiful we couldn’t have ever imagined it, these are the things I search for and hope to capture to show people, through these images I want to breathe life back into these forgotten places.
My first trip for Soviet Ghosts was in October 2012, to Chernobyl, Ukraine, I had ideas that I wanted to make a book, but this was the trip that I took to the publisher and explained my idea, all photos were completed by December 2013.
I went on 6 different road trips for the book to over 10 different countries, from the Soviet Union and its occupied states, on each trip there was always 4 of us, I managed to get people from the countries we visited to join me and help me researching and finding the locations. I also had my husband and one of my best friends to join me on a number of the trips. I went away from the adventure meeting many amazing people from so many different countries and I feel very lucky for the effort and help they gave to make the book happen.
There were some rather hair raising experiences while making the book, not many urban explorers travel to Russia, where the rules are very different, locations are heavily guarded and a strong military presence exists everywhere. There are serious consequences for getting caught. We managed stay hidden for all of the trip, we maximised our stealthiness, ducking and diving into bushes and sneaking past sleeping security. But on one day our good fortune ran out.
I wasnt the only person involved with the making of the book, Tristi Brownett, Owen Evans and Neill Cockwill wrote the chapters for Soveit Ghosts. Tristi has been a friend for many years, she inspires and nurtures me with my photography and she herself is a very inspiring and talented person with great knowledge on the health sector. Tristi was one of the first people I told I wanted to create a book on the abandoned Soviet Union and I would be needing someone to write the text for the book and she wrote me this email.
‘I just had a message from someone I used to work with, his name is Owen Evans and he is a professor of Film in the media department at Edgehill University. He has done some stuff on cultural memory (which in part is what your book is about). I spoke with him about your idea a while back because he is the Berlin – GDR expert I mentioned to you previously. As you can see by his job title and the areas that his interests straddle, that he is well connected around the world though I don’t think that he has anyone in Russia! I asked him if he would talk to you about getting a proposal together as he does it all the time for his own books, he also knows a little bit about what makes research proposals successful and eligible for grants. He is a really helpful and encouraging guy. He says he’s seen your work via my twitter and thinks it’s a great idea. He is willing to help you in any way he can.’