What keeps people in remote and seemingly adverse places? That is one of the questions Swiss photographer Beat Schweizer grapples with in his new book, “Mikhailovna Called” (Kehrer Verlag, 2019). Schweizer made repeated trips to three areas in far-northern Russia: Norilsk, 69 degrees north latitude; Dikson, 73 degrees north latitude; and Teriberka, 69 degrees north latitude.
First up in the book is Norilsk. According to the introduction, Norilsk is not only the closest city in the world to the North Pole but also the most polluted place on Earth. The nickel ores mined there have caused damage to the environment and the health of its denizens. But the city is also profitable because of its mineral resources. One more notable thing about the town: It is closed to foreigners and can be visited by outsiders only with a permit.
Next is Dikson. In the introduction, Dikson is described as having been the northernmost settlement in the world during the Soviet era and “was a pivotal point for the Northeast Passage and the starting point of many polar expeditions.” But today it “provides a livelihood for only a few hundred people. The remaining residents . . . either live as mechanics or border guards or transmit weather data to Moscow. Their existence is made possible solely by the state, in the ostensible endeavour to secure the northern external border of the motherland.”
The final place is a settlement called Teriberka. At one point it was home to a teeming population of fisherman, but it “has been suffering from a severe decrease in population since the demise of coastal fishing,” the book says.
In “Mikhailovna Called,” Schweizer depicts environs of these places and the people who live there. In the introduction, Sascha Renner, a photo curator, aptly describes the photographic achievement of Schweizer’s repeated voyages to these hardscrabble places: “Beat Schweizer’s three part documentary is a warmhearted survey of special living conditions and how these are dealt with. His longterm project presents us with forms of existence which, beyond the anecdotal, provide profound insight into human life. With his systematic view, he brings out the general in the individual and the individual in the general, but also reveals a keen eye for comedy, tragedy and absurdity — a finely tuned sensorium for the anomalies of everyday life. He registers the elemental with a sobriety that often leads back to the poetic or even the fantastic.”
Here are a few photographs from the book.
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