Beyond Sochi: Photos Of Russia By Russians

Feb 22, 2014
Originally published on February 22, 2014 12:47 pm

The gap between how foreigners view Russia and how Russians view themselves is wide and as old as the country itself.

Russian photographer Valeriy Klamm felt that foreign photojournalists who came to work in his country arrive with the pictures they want to send back home already in their head: Bleak images of a cold and desolate place where autocrats lord over drunks.

"They already know how to take pictures of Russia, and that's how they arrive," Klamm said. "It's always a wild country that's in some kind of difficult transition period."

Klamm, himself, had never photographed much outside of his home city of Novosibirsk, where nearly 2 million people live on the banks of the Ob River in the middle of Siberia.

But in 2000, he started to visit these small towns, camera in hand. He began to ask his photographer friends, both foreign and local, to share images of simple life the rural Russian villages that dot the vast expanse from Europe to the Pacific Ocean.

And in 2009, Klamm started "Birthmarks on the Map," a collective photo project and website that collects these images in one place.

"Life in the middle of nowhere has always been difficult," he said. "But I see dignity in the difficulties of these people on the outskirts of our geography. Their patience and simple wisdom gives strength and hope. And this stuff is always necessary to mankind."

Klamm wanted to fill his site with images of real Russia life, and the result is something closer to ethnography or anthropology than journalism. Klamm actually works with ethnographers who study these small communities to find untold stories.

More than 60 photographers, both award-winning professionals and hobbyists, have contributed. One photographer is a dentist with a massive collection of classic film cameras that he takes to the villages around his city, like Rossiyka, in his spare time:

Over the past five years, Klamm has relied on this loose collective to build a massive collection of imagery that depicts a Russia you won't see when you turn on the closing ceremonies of the Sochi Olympics this Saturday.

Grant Slater is in Siberia on a Social Expertise Exchange fellowship. He'll be contributing to the "Birthmarks" project. You can follow along with his travels on Instagram.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit