Friday, June 18, 2010

green green glass of home

Last week I was in Astana, the (administrative) capital of Kazakhstan. Sir Norman Foster is the man behind a new building, the Khan Shatyr, that will be shortly opened there and I went to help with the PR for this event. The building is quite something, but then so is Astana.

Originally and probably still in the hearts of most Kazakhs the capital of this country (popn 16 million, size 4 x Texas) is Almaty, but with an influx of oil dollars and some complex ethnic issues, it was decided to relocate the main city to a more central location. Pretty much in the middle of nowhere.

So they started building about 10 years ago, from a small town in the present location, and they continue building. This is the second Foster building to go up, following a glass pyramid some years back.

Its all interesting stuff, the state of public works says a lot about whats going on in a place, which is the purpose of course. Astana has all the bling of place starved of anything glamorous for a soviet length period of time, and the mix of different hues of glass reflects the multiethnic background. As well as being a historical melting pot pitched between Asia and Persia below it, it also served as Stalins dumping ground for unwanted peoples from across the Soviet Union. The stories of midnight mass deportations are as numerous as they are horrific. I once documented the remnants of an Italian diaspora living quietly (under invitation of Nicholas II during the 1850's) in the Crimean peninsular until they were dispatched to Kazakhstan during the 39-45 war. There were also Volga Germans, Kalmyk Bhuddists, Chechens, the list goes on and on.

So from this grimness it is good to see something grow. The climate is profound continental, with bitter winters, and this itself provided a problem for construction of the Khan Shatyr, as well as the inherent difficulties of what is essentially a massive tent - a canopy strung from an enormous central tripod. The location was a massive obstacle too. That didn't stop them putting a beach in the top floor.

And yes to Western taste Astana may have a little to much that jumps out into one's eyes, and maybe some of the interior decisions might seem far fetched. But they will stand as monuments to this time, and its background. Better to have started something and see where it leads, than not at all.

The soldiers pictured here seemed happy to have their pictures taken, they had just been demobilized. A little chapter in life was over and they were off back to a town somewhere out in the steppe. It all seemed fairly natural to them to be wandering around amongst the sky scrapers in the early morning being photographed by someone from another country. Tastes differ, as do approaches to what life happens to hold, for a country, or for the individual, and I've started to find it difficult to make judgments as to what is good/bad, right/wrong in this respect. I think its better to try to understand what is behind it, which is of course pretty impossible, and show it as it is. Awareness I guess. The camera never lies.



    You got name checked in the Grauniad Will

  2. wow, i got dizzy looking at those inside shots. truly awe inspiring.