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'The possession of Siberia's natural wealth has become vital in determining Russia’s position in the world'
W.Bruce Lincoln

Stunning photos of Siberia and its people feature in new book

By Derek Lambie
21 October 2014

French photographer takes a snap-shot of everyday life in Eastern Russia and falls in love with 'exotic' region

'In fact, I was surprised it was so pleasant to work there. In France, people are more aggressive with photographers than here.' Picture: Guillaume Chauvin

Stunning images of everyday normal life in Siberia have formed the basis of a new book by a French photojournalist. Guillaume Chauvin, who was born in 1987, spent a year documenting Russia armed with nothing more than his camera and a note pad.

Much of his research for Le Vie Russe – Russian Life – came during a long, but fruitful, stopover in Siberia where he admits he fell in love with the area and its people. Part-photo book, part-diary, it spans 272 pages and is a snapshot of the vast country as it stands at a crossroads between the traditions of the past and the modern world.

Soldiers, schoolboys, football fans, students and ordinary workers are all captured in print, with many of them becoming good friends of the photographer during his stay.

Guillaume Chauvin

Guillaume Chauvin, who was born in 1987, spent a year documenting Russia armed with nothing more than his camera and a note pad. Picture: Guillaume Chauvin

Chauvin, whose work has previously been exhibited at the Faculty of Journalism at Moscow State University, says he absorbed himself in the culture for three months, gaining the trust of the people, before taking his camera out for the first time.

'I can’t go somewhere like other journalists and take a big lens and photograph people I don’t understand,' he explains. 'That’s why all the people in the book I personally know in their familiar places. My personal mission was that you have to be proud to give these people your book, and they should be able to say 'yes, you didn’t lie, that’s how it was'.

Le vie Russe cover


Boys cadets playing video game


Orange car in the snow


Two boys playing on the snow slope

'My personal mission was that you have to be proud to give these people your book, and they should be able to say 'yes, you didn’t lie, that’s how it was'. Pictures: Guillaume Chauvin

A graduate of the School of Decorative Arts in Strasbourg, Chauvin spent a year travelling the Trans-Siberian Express route from Moscow to Vladivostok documenting daily life. What he saw, and what he experienced, is recorded in both words and in beautiful photographs throughout the book.

For instance, the 27-year-old captures a father and child at a market in Moscow, watches a woman running through the snow in Tyumen, and sees a girl clutching an AK-47 gun in a Red Square crowd. 

At a boxing match he focuses not on the fighters, but on the female medic sat at a table nearby, with the bandages and the first aid kit at the ready. In another image young boy cadets are shown jostling with one another to play with a handheld gaming device. It is, without doubt, a kaleidoscopic look at the lives of people most Westerners will never ever see.

The book’s publisher stresses it is 'not a tool for understanding or a tool of demystification'.

Describing it as a 'contemporary investigation' it adds that 'its array of photographs and notes in the first person neither reinforces nor debunks Western stereotypes still in force'.

But Chauvin confesses he was slightly apprehensive about his trip to Siberia because of the very same stereotypes, at least until he arrived in eastern Russia.

'I thought shooting in Siberia would be hard because of the fear of people’s reactions and the stereotypes of the danger and the repressive secret police,' he says. 'But it was easy because it’s not that true. In fact, I was surprised it was so pleasant to work there. In France, people are more aggressive with photographers than here.

Girl in yellow jacket


Soldier at potatoes field


Book page with birches


'Editors often say to me they can’t talk to me about it because what I show is too close to the French lifestyle – that my Russians are like 'normal people'. Pictures: Guillaume Chauvin

'When I studied in Riga, in Latvia, I had my first encounter with some of the Russian population. I felt comfortable so I decided to go and have a look at their country.

'I wanted to go to Siberia because, for me, it was the most exotic place I wished to be and because it was also a zone where I could be invisible in the middle of the population. I also decided to go there because of its landscapes, its native people and the preserved traditions.'

One of the interesting aspects to the Frenchman’s book is that he chooses not to include any captions to his pictures. It’s a deliberate ploy, he says, adding: 'A caption restricts our reading [of a photo].'

Currently living in Strasbourg, the photojournalist is frustrated at the fact his book has been largely ignored in France because, he claims, it gives too positive an insight into Russia.

He says: 'Editors often say to me they can’t talk to me about it because what I show is too close to the French lifestyle – that my Russians are like 'normal people'.

'The book is not as strange or violent and dark as editors and people wish in France. French people are still afraid of Siberia!'

 
        'Le Vie Russe, Entre Siberie et Aujourd’hui can be purchased directly from Guillaume Chauvin’s website www.guillaumechauvin.fr for 19Euros.

Comments (4)

This book has 272 pages - those pictures are samples, and there's a text too ! Don't be angry too fast. Peace from Ulan Ude. Doggi.
Doggi84, Россия
23/10/2014 00:26
8
1
Those are not siberian people... We're, fortunately, not slavic or caucasian. Don't go around insulting people and their lands.
khaan,
22/10/2014 01:26
4
15
No it isn't ! C'est un calembour volontaire... G.C.
guillaume chauvin, Strasbourg
21/10/2014 23:41
7
0
You should be aware there is either a typo or a bad pun on "le virus" in the title.
Jean-Pierre, Rennes
21/10/2014 19:48
4
5
1

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