Norwegian photographer Jonas Bendiksen traveled around the edges of the former Soviet Union from 1998-2005 collecting an incredible series of photos published into a book titled Satellites.
Bendiksen, at 19 years of age, started as an intern at Magnum Photos in London.
He then set off to work on his own photo-journalist career, exploring the fringes of Russia.
KAZAKHSTAN. 2000. A band of scrap metal dealers scan while waiting for a rocket to crash. (Screenshot/YouTube)
These tiny regions floating on the fringes of Russia all exercise a certain level of autonomy, but none are recognized as independent under international law.
I got my father Bendiksen’s photo-book many years ago as a gift, and looking again at the series, they are as fascinating as they were back when I first stumbled upon them.
The scrap metal scavengers who search the landscape for fallen rockets in order to sell the materials are probably the images that stuck with me most. Here are a series of photos from the book.
KAZAKHSTAN. 2000. The fiery wreck of a rocket after it crashed during the night. (Screenshot/YouTube)
KAZAKHSTAN. 2000. A Soyuz rocket fuel tank lies on the steppe. (Screenshot/YouTube)
RUSSIA. Altai Territory. 2000. Villagers collecting scrap from a crashed spacecraft, surrounded by thousands of white butterflies. Environmentalists fear for the region’s future due to the toxic rocket fuel. (Screenshot/YouTube)
RUSSIA. Altai Territory. 2000. Dead cows lying on a cliff. The local population claim whole herds of cattle and sheep regularly die as a result of rocket fuel poisoned soil. (Screenshot/YouTube)
RUSSIA. Birobidzhan, The Jewish Autonomous Region. 1999. The first Jewish homeland of modern times, created 20 years before Israel in Far-East Siberia. People waiting for the morning bus in the freezing winter, which often reaches -40°C.
UZBEKISTAN. Ferghana Valley. 2002. Muslim women digging themselves into what they believe to be healing sands.
UZBEKISTAN-KYRGHYZSTAN border. Ferghana Valley. 2002. An Uzbek border patrol surveys one of the valley’s seven territorial enclaves. The myriad borders of the valley make it hard to control and ideal for smugglers. (Screenshot/YouTube)
AZERBAIJAN. Nagorno-Karabakh. 2005. (Screenshot/YouTube)
GEORGIA. Abkhazia. Sukhum. 2005. A girl steps over a puddle surrounded by damaged buildings. Abkhazia is an unrecognized country on a lush stretch of the Black Sea coast. (Screenshot/YouTube)
GEORGIA. Abkhazia. Sukhum. 2005. Although Abkhazia is isolated, half-abandoned, and still suffering war wounds due to its unrecognized status, both locals and Russian tourists are drawn to the warm waters of the Black Sea. This unrecognized country, on a lush stretch of Black Sea coast, won its independence from the former Soviet republic of Georgia after a fierce war in 1993. (Screenshot/YouTube)
GEORGIA. Abkhazia. 2005. With its lush Black Sea location, 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. (Screenshot/YouTube)
GEORGIA. Abkhazia. Sukhum. 2005. Damaged apartment building on the outskirts of Sukhum. Some of the apartments are still occupied. (Screenshot/YouTube)
GEORGIA. Abkhazia. Sukhum. 2005. Babushka ‘Tanya,’ an elderly ethnic Russian woman, heads back to her bombed out apartment building after walking her dog. Despite the damages, three apartments remain occupied in the building. (Screenshot/YouTube)
MOLDOVA. Transdniester. 2004. People headed to work in the morning. (Screenshot/YouTube)
MOLDOVA. Transdniester. 2004. Street scene. (Sreenshot/YouTube)
MOLDOVA. Transdniester. 2004. People on a bus commuting to a factory in the cold winter morning. (Screenshot/YouTube)
MOLDOVA. Transdniester. 2004. Street scene along the main boulevard. (Screenshot/Youtube)
MOLDOVA. Transdniester. 2004. People attending a church-run soup kitchen. Most Transdniestrians are poor, and a large portion of the population are pensioneers longing for the better times of the USSR. (Screenshot/YouTube)
Jonas Bendiksen: “I love working on stories that get left behind in the race for the daily headlines—journalistic orphans. Often, the most worthwhile and convincing images tend to lurk within the hidden, oblique stories that fly just below the radar. ”
Although the photo-book Satellites is no longer available to purchase, you can buy a poster of the iconic satellite image on the cover that is featured in the video from this link.
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