Rob Hornstra

Ausstellungseroeffnung; FREELENS Galerie; Rob Hornstra; Ivan«s Cowshed & Putin«s Games; The Sochi Project; Foto: Holger Stšhrmann; Holger Stoehrmann

Rob Hornstra is a Dutch photographer and self-publisher, who consider himself a storyteller and journalist: using photography as a medium to tell his stories. Hornstra’s visuals embody a documentary style: an investigator evidencing certain characters and issues. His work has mainly focused on the Soviet Union but Hornstra has also travelled the world for his projects. He has published seven books of solo work: Sochi Singers, Safety First, Empty Land Promised Land Forbidden Land, On the Other Side of the Mountains, 101 Billionaires, Roots of the Rúntur, and Communism & Cowgirls.

It’s mighty impressive! The reason Hornstra became a self-publisher was because it was difficult to find a publisher willing to print his work and so he saved his money in order to do it himself. Luckily, his work and efforts have been successful. Hornstra admits that being a self-publisher, whilst it has its difficulties, is the ultimate way of sharing and telling your story. You have the utmost freedom, the ability to do whatever you like with your work without any outer influences or opinions. I myself wouldn’t have a clue so find Hornstra’s relentlessness and work ethic inspiring!

In 2009, together with writer and filmmaker Arnold van Bruggen, Hornstra started the Sochi Project, which over five years would document the area and people of the Sochi resort, to witness the construction of the most expensive Olympics ever.  The Winter Olympic Games are to take place in Sochi in 2014, thus the project is documenting the build up to the event and thereafter whilst forming many topics for debate. The project is extremely poignant and dangerously political, so much so the work and its creators could be eliminated.

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Sochi is a subtropical tourist resort amid conflict. The government is trying to disguise this ongoing war and social divide in the area by the Olympics, thus restoring the image of Russia. As a result the project is questioning the likes of human rights, public money, Russian politics and government, poverty, discrimination and whether justice is being served to the area and people of Sochi. Should so much money be put into the Olympics when the area is amid conflict and lacking general human necessities just across the mountains? Who will the Olympics benefit in the end?

The President of Russia, Vladimir Putin has long begun painting Sochi to be the most idyllic, diverse and beautiful place in the entire world. Putin even stressed and perfected his English pronunciation and phrases to heighten both his appeal and public opinion of Sochi.  “Sochi is a unique place. On the seashore you can enjoy a fine spring day. But up in the mountains it’s winter. We are allocating 12 billion dollars for this. Please support the Olympic Dream of millions of Russians. The Olympic Family is going to feel at home in Sochi”-Will they really if they know the full story? Whilst Putin is fast improving the image of Russia whilst creating a serious amount of hype for the Winter Games, the Russian people also hope for a country without human rights abuses and discriminatory laws, both of which exist in the region of Sochi.

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Putin’s statements and dreamy descriptions of Sochi can be quickly counteracted by the facts of the region, thus why this project is so controversial and political! So lets! The area is certainly unique given the huge divide between rich and poverty. Yes it may be the most crisp, fresh winter in the mountains of Caucasus, but there is also an ongoing war against separatist rebels. 12 billion dollars being allocated to the event is massive by anyone standards, so one can’t help but ponder on those who could really benefit from that money in the area. On the other side of the mountains there exist an immense amount of people living without running water, electric, gas and food in what’s considered Russia’s poorest region. What about those people? Why can’t money be allocated to them? How could such a money-draining event be placed amid Russia’s poorest and most violent region, full of angst and despair?

I find this project so intriguing. The wealth of context available around the project is impressive, which instantly grasped my attention and made me want to find out more.  The region of Sochi itself is just fascinating. On the one side, Sochi is considered the Florida of Russia, but cheaper. A place for first loves, dreamy walks on its divine coastal beaches, where no elderly can be exiled from the dance floor, famous for its exquisite hotels, sanatoria and subtropical vegetation; a place of beauty and pleasure. However, on the other hand, Sochi is also considered the poorest and most violent region in Russia, amid ongoing wars and people living in poverty. It’s this social gap in the region, which is so interesting. How could paradise exist alongside anguish? It’s also interesting to see how the government is attempting to hush these tortures in the region to the public, hiding them with a successful Olympics. Hence why this project is so controversial and potentially dangerous.

‘The Sochi Project’ got me thinking about how important it is to feel a connection to a subject or issue when forming a creative project. The immense amount of research and context that plays alongside ‘The Sochi Project’ evidences its creators passion, drive and commitment. The project itself is so political they run the risk of upsetting the government and being eliminated, which is surreal. However, it could also evoke change, raise awareness and bring help to those who need it in the poorer, violent region. Its this passion which I need to try and emulate within my own project. What issue do I want to cover? What do I love? What do I hate? These are things I need to think about but I feel most definitely inspired!

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