M. Scott Brauer / USA
M. Scott Brauer is a photographer based in Boston, Massachusetts, who works for international newspapers and magazines. His work focuses on communities and socioeconomic issues around the world. He has focused on stories in China, Russia, and the US. He is a co-founder of the blog about photojournalism and visual communication at dvafoto.com.
I don’t consider myself a street photographer, though much of my work is photographed on the street. I’m interested in unposed moments of ordinary life in extraordinary circumstances. My first trip to Russia was as a philology student in 2003. Though I had a camera with me, the trip yielded few photos. Instead, the six months I spent in the regional capital of Voronezh further cemented my interest in the country and culture in its second decade after the coup.
At that time, the people I talked to largely regarded the capitalist class as hooligans; the population was dropping quickly due to low birth rates, higher death rates, and people leaving–no one I met wanted to have a baby. “Why would someone want to grow up in Russia?” they said–Putin’s approval rating was near an all time low. The list goes on. But in 2012, when I returned and when I began making these pictures, it felt like the country had found its stride. People were proud of their country. The population decline had finally reversed. The economy was recovering from the recession faster than any other G8 country. Nevertheless, I felt a tremendous sense of isolation and uncertainty, as if the country were on the brink of something big but maybe not something good.
In hindsight, these pictures were made not long before events in Crimea and Ukraine put Russia on a vastly different track from what the previous decade’s growth and prosperity seemed to presage. The pictures here reflect my impressions of a country I felt lumbering toward the future. People going about their daily lives seemed caught in a oppressive whirlwind of international and domestic politics that they could not change.
Back when I was a student in Voronezh, I spent a lot of time studying the poetry of Osip Mandelshtam, who had been exiled in the city. One poem, in particular, guided me in these photos. It starts, “Falling is the constant companion of fear / And that fear is the feeling of emptiness.”