Staggering Photos Capture a Frozen Apartment Complex in Vorkuta, a Dwindling Russian City That's the Coldest in Europe
Photographer Arseniy Kotov is dedicated to documenting the changes in Russian life and architecture since the fall of the USSR, a commitment that brought him to the coldest European city last February. Located about 110 miles from the Arctic Ocean, Vorkuta is a small mining town that once held one of the largest and most grueling forced labor camps during Stalin’s reign. Often plagued by temperatures as low as -45 degrees Celcius, the city now has one of the fastest dwindling populations in all of Russia.
During Kotov’s visit, he toured various housing complexes built for workers, many of which were abandoned when the mines closed. One building in particular, though, is evidence of how desertion continues to unsettle the once-thriving city, an ongoing problem that Kotov captured in a stunning series. His photographs frame the dilapidated, five-story structure that’s entirely subsumed by feet-long icicles and mounded snow. Relics from former residents and the chipped, blue paint peek through the frost, much of which clings to the stairs and banisters and climbs the walls.
Kotov tells Colossal that often, buildings are transformed into similarly chilling caves when pipes burst due to lack of maintenance, leading to splashes of hot water, subsequent high humidity, and then ice growth on every surface. At the time of his visit, one family remained in the Severniy-district building, which was still connected to the central heating system that runs through Russian cities, making it easier to pass through some of the walkways thanks to warmth from the radiators. Although Kotov wasn’t able to meet the sole occupants, he did hear that they moved not long after his tour, saying:
As I know, locals said that after one week as I visited this building, he and his wife were resettled to another apartment, and this whole building was cut off from all the communications (water, heating, electricity). This is a usual story in Vorkuta: as less and less people are left, it becomes unprofitable to heat an entire building, and people are gradually moved to others where there are more inhabitable apartments. Local authorities call it a “managed compression strategy.”
Many of Kotov’s photographs are compiled in Soviet Cities: Labour, Life & Leisure, and his second book, which is full of images he captured while hitchhiking around the country, is slated for release in November. Prints are available from Galleri Artsight, and you can follow Kotov’s sightings and travels on Instagram.
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Japanese artist Azuma Makoto (previously) is known for shifting the contexts in which we typically view florals—think encasing bouquets in blocks of ice or suspending them in the stratosphere—through installations and designs that blur the boundaries between art and botany. Shown here is a 2018 project titled “Frozen Flowers” from Makoto’s In Bloom series. The undertaking brought the artist to Notsuke Peninsula in Hokkaido where he doused open blossoms and greenery in water. Positioned against the stark, snowy landscape, the resulting arrangement is frozen in its original splendor, allowing the vibrancy of the flowers to peek through the icicles.
“The place where this installation was held in Hokkaido is also called the end of the world since blighted pine trees are usually spread out there and that place freezes over in winter,” says Makoto’s studio. “It was the series of how Azuma pursued unknown possibilities of flowers and how flowers express themselves under this condition.”
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Freeze Frame: A Meditative Stop-Motion Short Explores Preservation and Decay Through a Tedious Ice Harvest
Brussels-based director Soetkin Verstegen bills her methodical and nostalgic animation “Freeze Frame” as a “miniature cinema inside an ice cube.” Produced in a grainy, vintage style, the black-and-white short loosely follows workers as they harvest and attempt to preserve the frozen blocks. Amidst scenes of the monotonous, assembly-line efforts are insects, frogs, and various creatures swimming across the frames and eventually, crystallizing into skeletal ice sculptures.
In a conversation with Short of the Week, Verstegen spoke to the difficulty of using such a transient material, calling it “the most absurd technique since the invention of the moving image.” The tedious nature of stop-motion further matches the repetitive movements of the film’s subjects, forming “a playful puzzle with formal ideas around early cinema, decay, and preservation.”
You can find more of Verstegen’s short films that experiment with animation techniques on Vimeo.
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It’s easy to forget that the mounds of snow lining sidewalks each winter actually are comprised of billions of tiny crystals with individual grooves and feathered offshoots. A trio of photographs taken by Nathan Myhrvold, though, serves as a stunning reminder of that fact as they expose the intricacies hidden within each molecule.
To capture such crisp images, the Seattle-born photographer traveled to Fairbanks, Alaska, and Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada, where temperatures plunged to –20 °F. “Water, an incredibly familiar thing to all of us, is quite unfamiliar when you see it in this different view. The intricate beauty of snowflakes is derived from their crystal structure, which is a direct reflection of the microscopic aspects of the water molecule,” he says.
Formally trained in physics, Myhrvold spent 18 months building a custom camera with a cooled-stage microscope to ensure that the flakes remained frozen as he shot. Short-pulse, high-speed LED lights reduce the heat the instrument emits, and at a minimum, its shutter speed clocks in at 500 microseconds. Myhrvold says it’s the highest-resolution snowflake camera in existence.
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Shot at an elevation nearing 10,000 feet in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, a series of images by Eric Gross capture a high-alpine lake covered in icy ridges and dips that mimic sleek waves. The Colorado-based photographer tells Colossal that local experts believe the phenomenon is caused by snowdrifts blowing onto the already frozen lake, melting there, and then refreezing. “Through multiple melt/freeze cycles and after periods of high winds, the mounds and divots are shaped into deep curves, sometimes with sharp ridges and lines that give the appearance of regular lake waves, frozen in time,” Gross says. “Composing images from ground level revealed that the dark ice waves exhibit psychedelic reflections of the surrounding mountainous landscape.” To see more of the photographer’s phenomenological works, head to Instagram.
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Anchorage-based creative Paxson Woelber has captured stunning photographs that illuminate the massive ice formations he recently stumbled upon in an Alaskan cave. Part of Castner Glacier in the Eastern Alaska Range, the expansive chamber is replete with glimmering crystals that jut down from the ceiling in some areas and coat the walls in others.
Woelber shares with Colossal that he visited during a deep freeze that saw temperatures below -30 degrees Fahrenheit, and discovered that the cave was formed by a stream that opened near the back. Geothermal heat warms the interior, causing the higher temperature of the inside to meet the drier, cold air from the outside near the cave’s mouth. This interaction causes moisture in the air to condense, creating the giant formations.
The artist described the experience as feeling as if he were exploring the inner portions of an asteroid. “Near the mouth of the cave, branching tree-like crystals hung down over a foot from the roof of the cave,” he says. “Toward the back, the crystals were smaller and more tightly-packed, like the crystals on the inside of a huge geode.” Head to Woelber’s Instagram to check out footage from his visit.
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