Made of Steel
Russia is a liquid place. A place of change despite how solid and rigid it may seem in its ways. As it melts and reforms, the regions and people change, going both forward and backward in time, from stop to stop on the Trans-Siberian Railway.
During the Soviet Era, over two thousand towns and cities were built. Each town serving an unique purpose, comprising of one fourth of the country’s population. Some towns were built for manufacturing nuclear power, others for smelting steel. Some cities were closed and secret with deceiving names depicting false locations, others well known and open for visitors. Most families were assigned a city, and when the Soviet Union collapsed, these families had no option but to stay. Handfuls of these towns had factories that were sold to individuals, keeping doors open, while others were abandoned completely. Workers did not know where the materials came from and where products went to, and when jobs were lost and moving proved impossible, former factory workers settled down. These factory workers became the local farmers, the bee keepers, the rabbit breeders. Going back in time, many of these towns with promising futures for families now they rely on their own hands and soil. In the last 20 years since the Soviet Union has collapsed, the people had to become stronger and self-reliant.
For months, Christine Armbruster backpacked back and forth across Russia. With the collapse of the Soviet Union came a massive destruction of documents. Armbruster worked with project partner Tree Gore from the ground up to find the names of these towns, then they had to ask around to find out where they were, as modern maps don't include them. There are still secret towns, with secret histories that many Russians don't even know about themselves. Towns with radioactive rivers and histories so unreal they wax folklore. Hitchhiking from small town to small village, they found the hidden 1/4 of Russia. The ones who used to make steel, but have since become Made of Steel themselves.
Exhibitions and Publications.
’17 Huck Magazine, Web Feature, London
’17 F-Stop Magazine, Web Feature
’17 Dodho Magazine, Web Feature, Spain
A big thanks to the Brigham Young University Office of Research & Creative Activities (ORCA) for the grant to help me complete this project. Also thank you to the Kickstarter campaign that helped facilitate this big and sometimes lofty project undertaken. Thank you to every person met along the way. Dasha for taking us in for so long in Ekaterinburg. Those in Krasnouralsk who let us into their lives, and those in Baikalsk who are literal life savers. Lastly, thank you to Tree Gore for the adventure.