Just a 30-minute drive out of the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, is a housing estate named Vaziani, which is little-known even to Georgians. Built during the Soviet era, the tower blocks of Vaziani once housed Russian soldiers stationed at a nearby military base.
“Back then, the military were very privileged and life was good in Vaziani,” say photographers Arne Piepke and Ingmar Björn Nolting over email. “But after the collapse of the USSR, the stationed soldiers left the housing estate for home and the tower blocks fell into disrepair.”
“Nowadays it’s home to refugees and people from deprived backgrounds. After seeing the settlement for the first time, we quickly decided that we wanted to tell this story.”
Remains of a Soviet Utopia, a project by Piepke and Nolting, came about after meeting a 17-year-old named Edo, who invited the pair to his home in Vaziani. Staying at Edo’s home, they soon became integrated into his family life, and managed to gain the trust and respect of other residents living in Vaziani.
Piepke and Nolting explain that problems are prevalent in the settlement, which is home to around 4,000 inhabitants. Unemployment is rife. There is a lack of fresh water, widespread poverty and buildings in danger of collapse. But for the people who live there, there is no alternative.
In order to give the community a voice in the project, many of the photos are captioned with quotes from Vaziani’s residents. “Most people wanted to tell their story and convey their feelings about the place, what they tried in order to change their situation and their hopes for the future,” says Piepke and Nolting.
Working in tandem was beneficial in many ways, reflect the pair, who are also the founders of DOCKS Collective. “Motivating each other and constantly reflecting on the work is one of the main advantages of working in a team. Our criticism is very honest. As friends working together at the same time, it shaped us a lot. When you share the same vision of a project, it can strengthen a body of work.”
The main challenge lay in finding the right photos. “Photography always leaves more out than it can show, and it is very limited in its narrative ability,” they say. “We were looking to capture photos which mainly suggest; photos that do not give away too much or over-dramatise this place. We wanted to show the place and the people in an honest and dignified way.”
“Our goal is to create a mood that will have a lasting emotional effect on viewers, to raise questions and make them think about the subject,” adds Piepke.
During their annual trip to Georgia for the Kolga Tbilisi Photo Festival earlier this year, Piepke and Nolting returned to Vaziani and handed prints to the people they’d photographed two years ago. Reflecting on Vaziani’s current state, they admit it was sad to see that “basically nothing has changed there.”
“We won’t change their situation with our photos,” say Piepke and Nolting, “but if some people start to think about it and get to know the place a bit better, we already achieved a lot.”
See more of Piepke and Nolting’s work on their official website.