Unforgiving and dramatic winters have often been regarded as one of Russia’s most defining characteristics. A Russian winter is redolent both of great hardship: extreme temperatures, physical privation, an atmosphere of isolation and desolation, but also great beauty. Russia’s majesty is heightened by the intensity of its winter and for centuries, the Russian winter has been romanticised by many artists from the master realists of the nineteenth century, to modern day film directors such as Tarkovsky and Zviagentsev.
Using the perpetual dusk of Russia’s far North, Roberts encapsulates the natural light that was available for only a few hours each day during Polyarnye Nochi (Polar Nights), the period from December until mid-January when the sun remains below the horizon. Like Motherland before it, Polyarnye Nochi is a testament to modern Russian life and can almost be viewed as a ‘road movie’. His images allude to the half-light between the reality of subject and the surreal quality of image. Often he balances the dream-like property of subject matter with the use of a long exposure to render as much detail in the photograph as possible.
“Man’s ingenuity in the face of nature’s might is one aspect of these photographs. But they are also studies of the way in which nature, and specifically, winter, despite being temporarily and often brutally tamed, is able to consume, transform, beautify and disguise the man-made world. The photographs hint at the uneasy co-existence of man and nature, but also capture the indefinable and elusive beauty that emerges as a result of this precarious alliance.” Alexandra Lennox, Intelligent Life, 2008