|Photographer Agency VU’Paolo Vertsone and Alessandro Albert began to take off to Moscow in 1991, immediately after the August coup.
A camera can be a time machine. Through the art of photography, past, present, and future coincide to challenge our concept of time, change, and progress. This has become the backbone of our Moscow portrait series, a collaboration between two photographs spanning two decades. We completed the first installment, a collection of black-and-white portraits, in September 1991, two weeks after the August coup d’état that contributed to the USSR’s collapse.
Equipped with a sign explaining in Russian that would we were looking for people to pose for us, we sought out pedestrians between 10 am and 5 pm. Stationing our large format, 4×5-inch folding camera at strategic locations bearing political or cultural significance, we moved each day to cover a new neighborhood or demographic. Just as news headlines failed to truly capture Moscow that year, centers such as Red Square and Gorky Park could not represent the city’s human character. However, once pedestirans came into focus before these silent buildings, we began to see a truer face of Moscow. The final 180 portraits included people from all levels and visually defined the capital’s hopeful energy.
The outpouring of acclaim this project received merited a second one. We returned ten years later in September 2001 to complete a similar survey. Returning to the same locations, we waited again for volunteers to commit themselves to our record. The differences between passerbys had changed dramatically as a strong rift between rich and poor replaced the previously communal atmosphere of ’91.
We returned to Moscow in September 2011 to document its people for a third time. Over a period of three weeks we took about 200 portraits in the same fashion as the two previous sessions.
The Muscovites’ active participation provided a direct testimonial to the capital’s multitude of personal and social identities. Through their sheer scale, unity, and connotation, these images challenged Moscow’s official story. Asking viewers to re-envision this former Soviet captial and the current Russian one through these personalities made this work a marker for the present and a return to the past. The Moscovites’ enigmatic ability to define themselves rather than conform to expectations has encouraged us to go about this last series without pre-conceived notions. We wanted to be guided only by our eyes in order to revisit this city and challenge.