From 19 April through 22 June the Noorderlicht Photogallery presents the magnum opus by photographer Rob Hornstra and writer/filmmaker Arnold van Bruggen: The Sochi Project. The two have been working uninterruptedly since 2009 on an extensive documentary about the controversial conflict zone around Sochi: the Caucasus. Themes such as corruption, violence, terrorism and tourism run like threads through the project. This exhibition shows the final results of five years of investigations in thorough slow-journalism.
Rob Hornstra (NL, b. 1975) and Arnold van Bruggen (NL, b. 1979) began their monster project in 2009. The curious selection of the sub-tropical Sochi as the setting for the 2014 Winter Olympics led to their decision to travel to the South Russian city for a photo documentary. Now, five years and eleven trips later, The Sochi Project covers the whole explosive region around this city, from the small, little-known, renegade country of Abkhazia to the south of Sochi, to the infamous Russian constituent republics like Chechenia and Dagestan on the other side of the mountains. It is a region full of contrasts, characterized by poverty, separatist movements, terrorism, cheap sun-sand-and-sea tourism – and the most expensive Olympic Games ever.
‘The Olympic family is going to feel at home in Sochi,’ Russia's President Putin guaranteed his hearers – speaking, exceptionally, in English. In any case, the propaganda machine did its best to realize his promise. The whole region was rapidly transformed into a winter sport paradise. The question remained whether journalists, who arrived in large numbers to cover the Games, would also have access to the wider region around Sochi. Hornstra and Van Bruggen sought to anticipate the gloss being applied.
After facing many closed border crossings, overzealous bureaucrats, several sojourns in Russian cells, and ultimately an official ban on their reentering Russia, The Sochi Project is now, after end close of the Olympic Winter Games, at an end. Themes like corruption, violence, terrorism and tourism run as threads through the various geographic chapters in the project and the exhibition: Sochi, Abkhazia and the North Caucasus.
The Sochi Project, which hopes to reach as large an audience as possible with information about this tumultuous region, was made possible by 634 private donors. As such, it also played a pioneering role in what only began to be called crowdfunding after 2009.