The driver stops at a crossing of deserted roads. He is confused as he can’t read the road signs. After the independence, the alphabet was changed from Cyrillic to Latin, and he has yet to learn the new symbols. For now he relies on intuition to find his direction.
She arrives promptly at 8 am, opens her office and sits at the desk. She checks some dusty papers and looks out the window. She was a senior manager in this factory that has been sinking into ruins for 20 years. "Someday it will start up again,” she says. “Until then someone has to keep papers in order."
They call the sea tender names, like an old friend. Still, they want to get as much as they can from it today. They do not know what tomorrow will be like.
“A large rose-tree stood near the entrance of the garden: the roses growing on it were white, but there were three gardeners at it, busily painting them red.”
“Those who went to space told they saw a light from above. There are only three places you can see a light from space. Mecca, Jerusalem and here, our province. It is because everything is sacred here...”
A Nobel village is slowly being submerged by the sea. Only one crazy old man stays on there, with dozens of angry dogs. No one can enter; he is guarding the Nobel brothers’ property.
“A new era has dawned in our country.
All the earth is lit by the light of morn.
Glory fills our hearts with an aura of greatness.
In the mighty state a happy time has begun!"
“You can’t photograph the sea. This is a border,” a policemen told me. “Where is the border?” I asked. “Everywhere,” he answered firmly. “The sea is a border.”
“...Every year, every month, every day of the great era fills our hearts with the sweetness of victory and success. The progress of tomorrow in all aspects of life is well beyond the boundaries of today. Thus, by the time I finish this book, the information in it might be already outdated.”
Twenty years ago, the boundaries of three new littoral states were mapped along the shores of the Caspian Sea. Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan have emerged from the wreckage of the Soviet Union with immense oil and gas reserves and the enormous challenge of defining themselves as independent nations-states.
Hope and ambition have been defining factors for various groups of people as new states attempt to integrate themselves into the world political economy. The big game of oil has promised to bring fresh glory to the countries and gigantic projects appear one by one on the shores, aiming to build new national pride for the population. Though the official presentation of prosperity affected only the front side, as the Potemkin -alike facade. Thoroughly built along the central roads in Baku, the facade is skillfully fixed to old Soviet blocks that are left in rotten condition. The wasteland left behind façade is hidden from the view, as hidden are the lives of people trying to find their place in a rapidly changing society.
I went to the Caspian region for the first time in 2010 to explore the transformations that oil development brought to the countries. Neither a sea nor a lake, a body of water with non-identified, though promising oil resources, the Caspian Sea seemed to me as a metaphor for ever-lasting promises, source for hopes and life itself. Instead I found myself drawn to intense feeling of isolation and loss. While the oil development brings glory to the capitals it also cause the degradation of the environment and displacement for the people.
For next four years I was going back and forward the multiple places in the three countries, tracing the rapidly changing landscape and the personal stories of people, who were influenced by changes. A power of state ideology, uncertainty for the destiny of environment and direction for the people, all these resonated for me somehow on a personal level. I questioned myself about the reasons of tight connection between past and present, state and personal, and my photography became a tool to follow this research. With this work I aim to take a viewer on a subtle and complex journey through the promises of a new oil region, to seek a boundary between rise or fall.