Carl De Keyzer is a renowned photographer from Belgium who documented the last years of the Soviet Union.
In the late 1980s, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev launched the politics of glasnost and perestroika. For international photographers, it meant that the USSR, once a closely guarded society, was starting to open up gradually.
Western reporters were allowed to come to the Soviet Union for work. Luckily for them, these years also represented a historic moment. In only a few years, the Soviet Union would collapse and Russia would emerge as a new independent country. Those few lucky photographers who were able to secure access to the country in the late 1980s produced an important body of work, capturing the unique spirit of the fading Soviet empire.
Carl De Keyzer visited the Soviet Union twelve times in the space of a year, from August 1988 to August 1989. Working on a project named ‘Homo Sovieticus’, the photographer visited Sochi, a town on the coast of the Black Sea and a popular tourist destination inside the Soviet Union.
Sochi was established as one of the most fashionable resorts in the USSR under Joseph Stalin, who had one of his favorite residences built in the city. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the city emerged as perhaps the most popular summer resort in Russia.
In 1988, the photographer took pictures of Soviet people relaxing by the seaside, sunbathing and generally having a good time, all oblivious to the fact that their lives would change forever in just a few years.
Carl De Keyzer was able to capture the unique spirit of this Soviet isle of tranquility preserved amidst the obsolete Soviet system that was about to face its imminent collapse.
Carl De Keyzer’s work depicts Sochi as a place where people come to escape daily chores and life challenges. Although in black-and-white, Carl De Keyzer’s photographs seem to capture the warmth emanating from the sun, the sea and the beaches in Sochi.
People often pose in swimsuits, sunbathing on the beach or in not so obvious places, for example, by the parking lot or on a concrete stairwell warmed by the sunlight.
The photographs unmistakably depict the summer vibe: youths appear vigorous and elders – vibrant, with the glistening Black Sea as a backdrop.
Although the Soviet Union would collapse in a few years, the resort would not disappear. Year after year, Russians would flock to Sochi in search of the same summer vibe.
Years have passed since Carl De Keyzer completed his project in the USSR, as well as the part related to Sochi. Since then, the city developed both as a popular summer and winter resort and even hosted the XXII Olympic Winter Games in 2014.
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