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  • December 9, 2013

Musings: Mathias Depardon’s Postcards From the Sea

After covering conflict and other difficult subjects, some photojournalists can reach a burnout point. It’s not surprising that this often leads them to work on side projects that are, well, less heavy in nature.

Mathias Depardon, a freelance photographer based in Istanbul, had a brief experience covering conflict photography in Libya before realizing he wanted to redirect his energy into work like his most recent project, Black Sea Postcards, which delves into the many cultural layers of the Black Sea region—made up of the coastal areas of Turkey, Georgia, Russia, Ukraine, Romania and Bulgaria.

Young men jump into the Black Sea near the harbor in Novorossiysk, Russia. In 1942, the town was occupied by Germans, but a small unit of Soviet sailors defended one part of the town, known as Malaya Zemlya, for 225 days. Novorossiysk was awarded the title 'Hero City' in 1973.
Young men jump into the Black Sea near the harbor in Novorossiysk, Russia. In 1942, the town was occupied by Germans, but a small unit of Soviet sailors defended one part of the town, known as Malaya Zemlya, for 225 days. Novorossiysk was awarded the title ‘Hero City’ in 1973.

Depardon says he was drawn to the region because of its history, which has post-Soviet influences in some areas, and European or Middle Eastern influences in others.

“It seems like the younger generation carefully purges memories of Soviet times, but the older inhabitants cling on to ideas of security delivered through communism,” he said. “I wanted to trace the visual scars of past eastern European conflicts, of an unadorned daily life, of diminished prosperity. I wanted to feel this paradoxical coexistence between the former Soviet-Union socialism and the fervent liberalism that has taken root in the region and persists to this day.”

A man checks out competitors at the annual Kirkpinar Oil-Wrestling tournament in Edirne, Turkey. The tournament has been held annually since 1346, usually in late June, at the town near the Greek-Turkish border.
A man checks out competitors at the annual Kirkpinar Oil-Wrestling tournament in Edirne, Turkey. The tournament has been held annually since 1346, usually in late June, at the town near the Greek-Turkish border.
Muslim women swim wearing abayas on the beach near Zonguldag, Turkey.
Muslim women swim wearing abayas on the beach near Zonguldag, Turkey.

Depardon says this project was unlike past projects because of its fluid nature. “Every day I woke up with no idea of what I was going to find.”

This approach was entirely different from his experience covering news events, where he follows the action and can loosely predict what might happen each day. He said it was a therapeutic change for him after covering immigration, natural disasters and the Arab Spring, even though it required several months of work, including days where his search for images came up dry. But his persistence paid off—resulting in photos that have the light, effervescent quality of being on holiday, while showcasing the region’s storied history at the same time.

A local vendor sells inflatable rafts in front of a hotel in the popular holiday resort town of Sunny Beach, Bulgaria.
A local vendor sells inflatable rafts in front of a hotel in the popular holiday resort town of Sunny Beach, Bulgaria.
Picture of a woman laying on a memorial in Russia
A woman lies on an immense memorial at Malaya Zemlya, in Novorossiysk, Russia. The structure represents the Russian defeat of the Germans at this outpost in 1943.
Tourists stand by the Aquapark swimming pool, in the popular holiday resort town of Sunny Beach, Bulgaria.
Tourists stand by the Aquapark swimming pool, in the popular holiday resort town of Sunny Beach, Bulgaria.

Traditionally, postcards show us small snippets of a place, yet are also meant to convey something about its meaning or significance—whether it’s a landmark or landscape. So, while Depardon’s project is essentially an essay about a body of water and the people who live there, his “postcards” showcase the uniqueness of the region while still containing the weight of a complex past.

A man tries to fix an engine problem in Batumi, Georgia.
A man tries to fix an engine problem in Batumi, Georgia.
A man takes a bath in sulphur water from the spring of Matesta, in a sanatorium in Sochi, Russia.
A man takes a bath in sulphur water from the spring of Matesta, in a sanatorium in Sochi, Russia.
The ocean front in Sukhum, the capital of Abkhazia—a disputed region on the Black Sea. Abkhazia considers itself to be an independent state, while the Georgian government considers it to be part of Georgia.
The ocean front in Sukhum, the capital of Abkhazia—a disputed region on the Black Sea. Abkhazia considers itself to be an independent state, while the Georgian government considers it to be part of Georgia.

Black Sea Postcards has been shown at the Angkor Photo Festival in Cambodia, the Obscura Festival of Photography in Malaysia, and at the Dust and Scatches Gallery in Moscow. See more of Mathias Depardon’s work on his website, and follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Follow Janna Dotschkal on Twitter and Instagram.

There are 34 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Sofi Krasnokutskaya
    January 24, 2014

    Awesome! I live in novorossiysk, and it was a surprise to see my town in photo by national geographic!

  2. Елена
    January 23, 2014

    Ого,такие приятные комментарии)
    Это прямо льстит
    Люблю наш город

  3. Oxana Sytnik
    January 13, 2014

    my beautiful city Novorossiysk! thanks for sharing with us your truly amazing photos! I found this post this afternoon randomly and it made my day!

  4. Nand Kishore Sharma
    December 19, 2013

    Thanks for publishing.Very perceptive eyes telling stories …

  5. denyse
    December 17, 2013

    beautiful every day photos of the world!

  6. ts narayan an
    December 17, 2013

    Adventyurous I liked it.

  7. stan stone
    December 16, 2013

    These pix r just pleasant and charming. Don’ t analze or relive history just enjoy the colors and tranquil scenes.

  8. raad khalaf
    December 15, 2013

    beautiful pictures

  9. Jennei P
    December 15, 2013

    We are all the same, just humans.

  10. trevar
    December 15, 2013

    I like these- simple thoughtful photos….

  11. Marcelle Dagher
    December 15, 2013

    Beautiful pictures, an opening eye on the world it’s people and it’s beauty. Thank you for posting them.

  12. Felicia
    December 15, 2013

    These are very nice, thought provoking..

  13. Ina
    December 15, 2013

    These photographs are amazing! Each one tells a story and makes me want to see and learn more. Thanks for making my Sunday!!

  14. สัย พรเลิศ
    December 12, 2013

    Wow!

  15. danièle Van de Lanotte
    December 11, 2013

    Those pictures deserve to hang on my wall, and I will do it. Bravo

  16. Kate
    December 10, 2013

    These are really cool pictures! This what I want to do for a living- open people’s eyes to the world and cultures around them. Pictures can portray joyful or sorrowful images- we should appreciate them for what they are anyway. thanks :)

  17. Sammo
    December 10, 2013

    Excelentes fotos, muchas gracias por compartirnos esta mirada a otro mundo. Saludos.

  18. Jodi Hilton
    December 10, 2013

    Bravo Mathias

  19. Eva Hermogenes
    December 10, 2013

    I think the photos are beautiful and they make me want to visit those places. It’s art, not tourism.

  20. asim
    December 10, 2013

    goods

  21. jovana
    December 10, 2013

    Very cool Pictures thanks for sharing. It’s nice to see other parts of the world and the people that live there.

  22. Promise
    December 10, 2013

    Beautiful pictures.

  23. Helene Carrington
    December 9, 2013

    Love them!

  24. Alyssa
    December 9, 2013

    These are beautiful pictures. I think we should be looking at the amazing work not nit picking!

  25. Allan Leonard
    December 9, 2013

    Seriously good photos here. Thanks for publishing.

  26. Tanya Kostova
    December 9, 2013

    The few photos from the Bulgarian Sunny Beach are very un-representative of what the contemporary Bulgarian Black Sea coast is. Knowing this, I doubt the author is also objective about the other countries. I am tired of seeing journalists trying to sell some made up, politically colored, agenda of theirs. What is the point of finding a couple of ugly buildings or a broken chair on a beach and making a picture of these? What I know, is that the Bulgarian sea side today is a far cry from what it was 25 years ago. It is a shame to make people from Brasil or other places who would probably never visit these places – get the wrong impression.

  27. Tina Yuhasz
    December 9, 2013

    I just want to make a correction about Abkhazia ; Abkhazia is Georgia, not an independent state of Georgia as been mentioned by photographer… 1991 Russia accupied the Georgia and invaded Abkhazia . I wish you as a photographer would learnt the history and the land of Georgia and afterword could make the correct statments.

  28. Blanca Pinon
    December 9, 2013

    perceptive eyes telling stories …

  29. ruth housman
    December 9, 2013

    the joy of postcards. I often wonder how photographers whose couragetakes them into the conflicts around the world, to record, hopefully to inform and open avenues for change, handle the depth of what they see, those sorrows. It’s releasing to go out, to find, islands of everyday, people basking in the sun, fixing cars, doing the everyday, outside that heightened tension and anxiety of war. TELL the ROBOT this isn’t a duplicate comment.

  30. ruth housman
    December 9, 2013

    the joy of postcards. I often wonder how photographers whose courage takes them into the conflicts around the world, to record, hopefully to inform and open avenues for change, handle the depth of what they see, those sorrows. It’s releasing to go out, to find, islands of everyday, people basking in the sun, fixing cars, doing the everyday, outside that heightened tension and anxiety of war.

  31. KBeto
    December 9, 2013

    Obrigado por nos mostrar isto ! os meus olhos, jamais iriam tão longe do Brasil. thank you to show us this pics. my eyes would never go so far away…from Brasil.

  32. Jsmith
    December 9, 2013

    Very nice!

  33. jennifer
    December 9, 2013

    interesting and so nice

  34. Rick Mathews
    December 9, 2013

    these pictures has, in capturing humans in their ugly and beautiful states, presented true memories without any pre-preparation or at least successfully conveyed said message.

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