If this is much travelled-territory, Gronsky nevertheless makes it his own. He captures the relentless untidiness of the Moscow suburbs – litter, graffiti, unfinished buildings, ugly hills and valleys of excavated earth – and contrasts it with the uses to which it is put by locals intent on leisure. People sunbathe, huddle round smoky campfires and picnic wherever there is a patch of green, however unkempt, or anything approaching a sandy shoreline. In one photograph, families gather beneath a bank of newly excavated, rubbish-encrusted earth on which a man sits in his swimming trunks. Other images are seem more bucolic – a lone woman sunbathing in a green woodland, another woman lost in reverie in a thicket, both oblivious to the shadows, real and metaphorical, cast by the ever-present Soviet tower blocks.
Pastoral, then, is an interesting title for a book that so challenges our notions of the same, but these unruly edgelands, one suspects, are as close as many suburban Muscovites get to that elevated ideal. It is essentially, a book about how people use – and abuse – the precious green spaces available to them. I was bemused, then, by Mikhail Lampolski’s conclusion in his introduction that Pastoral is “a series of enchanting landscapes in which there is virtually nothing to look at”. On the contrary, time and time again, in Gronsky’s astute, quietly surprising images, the more you look, the more you see – of the edgelands and the lives lived there.
Location: Moscow, Russia
Text: Sean O’Hagan, Pastoral/Moscow Suburbs by Alexander Gronsky, 2014