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Jonas Bendiksen shows six regions of the former Soviet Union, and the problems they have experienced since its collapse. His project took seven years, and involved some disobeying local orders, suffering harassment by authorities, and even getting kicked out of some countries. His images are generally grim and dramatic; he likes to show scenes from unusual angles or with strong colors. His work is basically photojournalism, and he is an associate of Magnum Photos. Satellites is divided into six sections corresponding to the six regions: Transdniester, Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, The Ferghana Valley, Spaceship Crash Zones in Kazakhstan, and the Jewish Autonomous Region in Birobidzhan.
Each section has 2 pages of introductory text, but there's little or no explanation of the individual pictures. Oddly, his photographs shown on the Magnum website do have explanations. So, for example, in the section on the Black Sea resort of Abkhazia, we see a picture of a man lying on a bed, but on the Magnum website we learn that he has Tuberculosis and that "Doctors Without Borders" suppose the DOTS treatment in the hospital he is in. In another picture, we see a man sitting down with his back to a stuffed brown bear and a peacock. On the Magnum website, we learn "Abkhazia is trying to attract Russian tourists. Here, at a road stop on the tour bus route, an entrepreneur, who charges tourists 10 rubles to photograph his bear, catches his breath between busloads." Leaving this information out of the book means the photographs are harder to decipher, and so we look at them more for their aesthetic qualities than their information content.
Many of Bendiksen's images are beautiful and engaging, and none more so than the cover photograph of two men standing on a rocket stage that has fallen from the sky. In the middle of the countryside, in a cloud of white butterflies, the picture is surreal and even funny. Only when you read the explanation that the rocket launch site was placed far inland to maintain secrecy rather than on the coast so that these rocket stages could more safely fall into the sea is the significance of the picture really apparent. A picture of a field full of dead cows poisoned by rocket fuel is shocking. The series of pictures portrays the irresponsibility of policy making, the poverty and powerlessness of the people, and their readiness to take advantage of the situation by salvaging the precious materials from the rockets.
Satellites is a provocative collection of images. Bendiksen has gone on to do more excellent photojournalism as can be seen on the Magnum Photos website; so he is a photographer to look out for.
© 2007 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.
Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Reviews. His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.
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