100 Words: Photographers Speak

100 Words: In A Russian Arctic City

  • An abandoned train car outside Vorkuta, a coal mining town in Russia just north of the Arctic Circle.
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    An abandoned train car outside Vorkuta, a coal mining town in Russia just north of the Arctic Circle.
    Tomeu Coll
  • A young coal miner sleeps on the train. The ride from Moscow to the coal mines in the Arctic Circle can take 40 hours.
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    A young coal miner sleeps on the train. The ride from Moscow to the coal mines in the Arctic Circle can take 40 hours.
    Tomeu Coll
  • On the train. Beneath the railroads in Russia lie hundreds of human remains — the workers who built the Soviet communications network.
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    On the train. Beneath the railroads in Russia lie hundreds of human remains — the workers who built the Soviet communications network.
    Tomeu Coll
  • The city of Vorkuta is surrounded by several coal mines that have been abandoned since the '80s.
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    The city of Vorkuta is surrounded by several coal mines that have been abandoned since the '80s.
    Tomeu Coll
  • Inside a bus on Lenin Avenue, the main street of Vorkuta and center of the city.
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    Inside a bus on Lenin Avenue, the main street of Vorkuta and center of the city.
    Tomeu Coll
  • Ballet class in the cultural center of the city.
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    Ballet class in the cultural center of the city.
    Tomeu Coll
  • Even in the springtime snowfall buries the city.
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    Even in the springtime snowfall buries the city.
    Tomeu Coll
  • Although a few inhabitants still live in the village of Urshor, just south of Vorkuta, the government wants them out because of the high cost of maintaining their communications network.
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    Although a few inhabitants still live in the village of Urshor, just south of Vorkuta, the government wants them out because of the high cost of maintaining their communications network.
    Tomeu Coll
  • Galina Nikolaievna, from Germany, was a prisoner during the gulag system. She was condemned as a spy by Stalin. After the fall of the Soviet Union, she was required to stay north of the Arctic Circle where doctors were needed.
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    Galina Nikolaievna, from Germany, was a prisoner during the gulag system. She was condemned as a spy by Stalin. After the fall of the Soviet Union, she was required to stay north of the Arctic Circle where doctors were needed.
    Tomeu Coll
  • Alexander G. is a historian — and the son of a former prisoner of the gulag system.
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    Alexander G. is a historian — and the son of a former prisoner of the gulag system.
    Tomeu Coll
  • Mechanical worker outside Vorkuta.
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    Mechanical worker outside Vorkuta.
    Tomeu Coll
  • Alexander Yasnov, driving through what is known as Vorkuta ring road, which connects all the villages and coal mines surrounding the main capital.
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    Alexander Yasnov, driving through what is known as Vorkuta ring road, which connects all the villages and coal mines surrounding the main capital.
    Tomeu Coll
  • Known as Karakat cars, these vehicles are the most useful form of transport during the hard winters of the Arctic.
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    Known as Karakat cars, these vehicles are the most useful form of transport during the hard winters of the Arctic.
    Tomeu Coll
  • Abandoned cities in the Russian Arctic are nowadays used for military testing.
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    Abandoned cities in the Russian Arctic are nowadays used for military testing.
    Tomeu Coll

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It's a 40-hour train ride from Moscow to Vorkuta. The city, north of Russia's Arctic Circle, was constructed in the 1930s in large part by prisoners who were part of the Soviet gulag system of forced labor. Many workers died and were buried next to the railroad they were building to connect the city to the outside world.

The long ride offers plenty of time to contemplate this painful history. Vorkuta and other Soviet cities in the Arctic were built upon mining. But many are now shrinking or being abandoned altogether.

I became interested in Russia's far north because I was drawn to both the history and the modern, day-to-day realities. This relationship between big cities and abandoned places is what interests me.

Tomeu Coll has been a photographer for 13 years. He received a master's degree in photojournalism from the University Autonoma de Barcelona and was later hired as assistant to acclaimed photographer Donna Ferrato in New York City. More of his work can be found on his website and on FotoVisura.

100 Words is a series in which photographers describe their work, in their own words. Curated by Graham Letorney

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