Finding Beauty in a Russian Former Mining Town

Drawing inspiration from Katsushika Hokusai’s engravings of Mount Fuji in Japan, Fyodor Telkov creates a painterly image of Degtyarsk in Russia.

© Fyodor Telkov, from the series 36 views

I took this picture in Degtyarsk, in Russia’s Sverdlovsk region. The town is situated more than 1000 miles from Moscow, towards the centre of the country. Until relatively recently it was a prospering mining town. At opposite ends lie two huge waste heaps, mountains of dead rock from two mines called Capital 1 and Capital 2. The production of copper ore was once a booming industry, but it has had a serious environmental impact on the town.

The waste heaps reminded me of Mount Fuji in Japan, which is world famous thanks to Katsushika Hokusai’s engravings, in particular his series 36 Views of Mount Fuji and his book, One Hundred Views of Mt. Fuji. Hokusai’s work inspired me to create a project about the life of people near these waste heaps, which included researching the impact of these mountains of dead rock on residents. Waste heaps are visible from almost any point in Degtyarsk, and many citizens live near to them. These heaps tower over the town. In a way the image of waste heaps is a metaphor for the post-Soviet economy and the current situation of monotowns that are scattered all over the country.

I went to Degtyarsk many times when working on my project, 36 views, of which this image is a part. I found the weather conditions, seasons, and locations from which the waste heaps are visible really interesting. This image was taken in January 2015 and I remember there was good weather on that day. On a sports pitch at the foot of one of the waste heaps children played in the snow.

What was important to me, and what I wanted to show through my image, was how the people in the town were having a good time. I stayed for a while and captured several images of the people playing. I tried to seize moments when all of the figures were separate and showed expressive gestures. Thanks to the overcast even light I was able to create a mood evoking that of Pieter Bruegel the Edler’s painting The Hunters in the Snow. The photograph made the final selection for the book 36 views published by Ediciones Anómalas.

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Fyodor Telkov is a Russian documentary photographer, currently based in Ekaterinburg, Russia. To learn more about the work of Fyodor, visit his PHmuseum profile.

Gemma Padley is a freelance writer and editor on photography, based in the UK.

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