Made between July 2004 and August 2005, Motherland tells a story of Russia. Comprising photographs from over 200 locations in this vast, eastern nation, this body of work represents the most extensive and comprehensive photographic account of this country by a Westerner.

Instead of falling prey to the clichéd representations of a Russia ground down by poverty and despair, intimate portraits of contemporary Russians show us a diverse people, united by a sense of common identity and connected by a shared love of the ‘the Motherland’, while vast, sometimes, peopled landscapes reveal the complexity and uniqueness of the country. Together, the photographs explore the notion of Russia’s “modest beauty” without sidestepping the realities of Russian daily life.

This concept of “modest beauty” originates from early depictions of a specifically Russian landscape in art and literature, which contributed to the construction of Russian national identity. Russian land seemed impoverished in comparison with European conventions, but at the turn of the 20th century Russia’s “humble barrenness” became highly valued by Russian viewers. This once-landscape of suffering awakened an endurance within its people, and this humble nature, or modest beauty, became a source of national celebration.

The photographs explore the notion of Russia’s “modest beauty”. While they acknowledge their country’s deficiencies, Russians nonetheless believe their native land to be a remarkable and exceptional place. They convey a sense of optimism about their country, an optimism borne of more than just patriotism. They see Russia as their rodina, a word meaning “homeland”. Russians carry with them an innate sense of the history of the “Motherland” and through this feel inextricably connected to one another. They see her landscapes and people as unique – set apart, spiritual, resilient, even holy. This “Russianness”, elusive yet pervasive, represents a nebulous spirituality that inhabits almost every corner of this boundless land.

Motherland was published by Chris Boot Ltd (2007) and was shortlisted for the Arles Contemporary Book Award and selected as one of PHotoEspana Year’s Best Photography Books.


View installation shots here

The Meaning of Motherland essay by Rosamund Bartlett (link)

Contact sheet of photographic plates (pdf)

Reviews (pdf)