In July, our book designer, Emily Macaulay, spent several weeks hand sewing and binding Russian Rust Belt, which is a hefty 264 pages long with 182 colour photographs. This was both a considerable feat and a labour of love. She is aware as much as any of us of the untold number of hours of reflection and discussion that went into making Russian Rust Belt.
Regular readers of our News posts will remember that Alan took the photographs for the book during a residency in Yekaterinburg in 2009 at a time when Russia was rapidly transitioning from a Soviet planned economy to a homegrown version of a market economy. Alan was interested in the effect these sweeping changes were having on the day to day lives of working people and travelled throughout the region documenting the industrial decline, poverty, and environmental decay that he witnessed.
During Covid, we started work on a photobook based on Alan’s images from the residency. We spent many hours working remotely in Brighton, Cumbria, London, and Sweden, researching, writing, editing, sequencing, and developing the book design. Shortly after we had finished our first dummy and were researching printing costs, Russia invaded Ukraine. Torn between horror at Russia’s aggression and the respect and empathy for the working people of the Urals that we had developed during the previous months, we made the decision to suspend publication.
On a side note, a few weeks into the war Anthony Burrill called to say that the typeface he had chosen for the front cover of the book and page titles (from a collection owned by Partisan Press in Moscow) was being used in “No to War” posters pasted all over the city by Partisan Press printer Sergei Besov. One video of a poster being made garnered 3.6 million views on Instagram. We felt reassured to be associated – if only via a shared typeface – with anti-war forces in Russia.
We returned to the project one year later, having noticed that people responded with interest when they discovered the dummy amongst our other publications at book fairs, including the Aarhus Photobook Festival 2022, Fiebre Photo Book Fest Madrid, and the Cologne Art Book Fair. They would leaf through it cautiously and then start to ask questions until we eventually found ourselves chatting at length. It appeared to us that the war had awakened a curiosity to know more about Russia, which despite the West-facing years remains a mystery to most.
Details of the book can be found on our shop page