Syktyvkar is a city in the north of Russia, the small capital of the Komi Republic, home to a Finno-Hugric ethnical group which land was colonized by the Russians centuries ago. Far from any major Russian cities and from the fast life and economical development of the west, it is a city at the “end of the empire”.
The two ethnic groups, Komi and Russians, have lived together for a long time, mixing their roots and merging their iconography and traditions. Komi traditional folklore, Soviet symbolism and contemporary Russian culture have merged into the daily life of this provincial city.
Syktyvkar, which in Komi language means “the city on the river” is an unknown entity even for most Russians. Capital of a rich natural region close to the Ural Mountains and the land of the Nenets.
During the Tsarist time this was a place of political exile and many war prisoners were sent here. During World War II the Red Army forced hundreds of German prisoners into the region, many of their descendants are still living here. The Soviets used the region as a Gulag. Prisoners were sent to the labor camps from all over the USSR. Many survived and stayed, working in the paper factory of Eshva, a suburban part of Syktyvkar.
Nowadays most of the young people want to move to Saint Petersburg or Moscow, where there are more possibilities and a more lively future. Those who stay complain that the city will decay and vanish, that it will be forgotten even by its own citizens. Due to a strange twist of fate this remote place has become my second home. During the last years I have experienced the daily life of a place that has little by little unfolded its secrets.
But to represent the totality of a community, its complexity and variations, requires more than just a field study or cultural research. It requires a complete emotional submission to its essence. The history of this place has become my history and my experience and work has become part of that iconographical mix that this place is full of.
Filippo Zambon (1981) is an Italian photographer living in Helsinki. He has studied Art History in the University of Florence and Fine Arts at the University of the Arts of Helsinki. His work has been presented regularly in exhibitions and festivals around Europe. His first monograph The Komi diary was awarded in 2018 as the photobook of the year in Finland.