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Issue No. 17 - Enigma

Book Review: Dust by Nadav Kander

Book Review: Dust by Nadav Kander

The embers of a raging inferno, ignited by the nuclear arms race, are all that remains in the desolate region between Northwest Russia and Kazakhstan. This race became the focal point of the Cold War; by 1945 the United States had already created the first atomic bomb, and this lead to the expeditious development of the Soviet Union’s own nuclear program.

The Polygon Nuclear Test Site I (After The Event), Kazakhstan 2011
The Polygon Nuclear Test Site I (After The Event), Kazakhstan 2011

Kurchatov, also known as The Polygon, and Priozersk, formerly Moscow 10, were two sites where extensive nuclear testing was conducted, unbeknownst to the neighboring communities. A legacy of misery now scars these lands; cancer, birth defects and neurological diseases have swept through the populations, and portions of land have become uninhabitable.“The relentless quest for nuclear armaments created many of the ruins that we see here”, Nadav Kander wrote in the Artists Note of Dust, “and they now stand as monuments to the near ruin of mankind”.

Priozersk II, (Tulip in Bloom), Kazakhstan 2011
Priozersk II, (Tulip in Bloom), Kazakhstan 2011

Today, these areas lay intentionally forgotten, falling to ruin and sinking into the quicksands of time. Essentially, they have become invisible cities; concealed by the dominant, and often strident voice, of Russian authoritarianism.

In Kander’s latest photo book Dust, published by Hatje Cantz, he captures a landscape that has been tormented by history. Broken architectural facades, built during the height of Socialist Classicism, coalesce with deserted plains. A remarkable aspect of this book is Kander’s creation of space, which guides the viewer into a place that can only be mentally entered.

The Aral Sea I (Officers Housing), Kazakhstan 2011
The Aral Sea I (Officers Housing), Kazakhstan 2011

“The Aral Sea was once the fourth largest inland seas in the world. Over the past twenty years it has almost completely dried up” Kander noted, “This has left huge plains covered with salt and toxic chemicals—the results of weapons testing, industrial projects and pesticide and fertilizer runoff”.

These barren wastelands are masked by Kander’s presence; he has a unique ability to extract the silence, solitude and beauty in these haunting places. Pastel hues and rusty tones saturate the images, deceitfully concealing the desires and fear that built the foundations of these sites.

Priozersk XIV (I Was Told She Once Held An Oar), Kazakhstan 2011
Priozersk XIV (I Was Told She Once Held An Oar), Kazakhstan 2011

Not all images portray desolate exteriors. Kander also captures strikingly surreal interiors. Stark white walls, laced with deep blue lounges and soviet art, decorate the empty spaces. In one image, an old sign depicting three rockets firing into the air whilst the flag of the armed forces, Russian Navy and the Russian Air Force fly valiantly in the background, unveils a contrastingly different world, and one rarely seen by a global audience.

Seeing these dilapidated surroundings, a question begins to gnaw at the mind – no matter how much of this history is destroyed, will we ever manage to leave it behind?

Featured in Musée Magazine No. 6, Vol.1, Nadav Kander has established himself as one of the world’s leading landscape and portraiture photographers. Based in London, Kander is best known for Obama’s People, a portrait series published by The New York Times Magazine, and Yangtze: the Long River, which won the prestigious Prix Pictet prize in 2009. His extensive bodies of work have won countless awards, and have been included in the National Portrait Gallery, as well as the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Dust is scheduled to be released in the United States in November. For more information, download the Nadav Kander ~ Dust application.

Kyla Woods

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