Building as a Beacon as told by Frank Herfort

Adorned with bright colors and shiny mirrors, contorted into nearly impossible shapes, the architecture featured in Imperial Pomp often feels more fitting for a sci-fi film than an Eastern European city. Traveling through former Soviet states such as Belarus and Kazakhstan (as well as Russia itself), German photographer Frank Herfort has ventured across continents to capture the most extravagant flowers blooming among the former USSR’s bleak cityscapes. Telling the tale of a transitory age, Herfort sat down with PhotoChronicles to delve into just what these strange landscapes have to offer.

Do you feel that photography can function as a vessel for social change? Ideally, what sort of change would you like to see your images make in the world?

Yes, I do feel that photography can be one of many vessels for social change. Everybody should speak up at times and anyone who is skilled at some form of communication should use it sometimes for the good of a cause. Silence and indifference is not going to move things in a good direction.

Though you’ve explicitly referred to the 2011 Norwegian terrorist attack perpetrated by Anders Behring Breivik as the catalyst behind Project White, your work has gained traction well beyond the Nordic countries. What is it about the work that you feel resonates beyond borders?

The populist right movement has increased in Europe during the last years. Objectivism (or egoism in plain words) is part of their philosophy and this obviously makes for colder societies. I assume and hope that many Europeans are worried about this.

In the age of the 24 hour new cycle, media outlets have the tendency to fixate on heinous acts of terrorism. Do you feel that our collective obsession with tragedy has desensitized us to extreme and xenophobic viewpoints?

I can only speak of how I perceive this in my own country, where the boundaries of acceptable rethorics have been pushed for several years now. Statements that were considered rude and xenophobic a couple of years ago, have now become mainstream and “acceptable”. In addition there is the continuous Twitter storm from Trump, which makes any other sordid politician seem passable in comparison.

Moving on, I’d like to ask a few questions concerning your creative process. Other than their lack of color, what connects the images in Project White?

Norway is a very clean and scarcely populated country. This is of course a nice thing, but on the other hand it may be perceived as too clean and too empty, and I think this emphasises the lack of colour. It’s all a gut feeling, I suppose.

Many photographers focused on discussing socio-political issues opt to take a more photojournalistic route to illustrate injustice and inequity. In what ways do less direct, metaphoric images add to the conversation?

I suppose it makes another less obvious entrance point of view, where the mood of the politics is the center piece, and not the people who create it. There is also the advantage of not marketing bad politicians by showing their faces repeatedly.

In your artist statement, you mention a lack of justice, empathy, tolerance, and hope present in society as a whole. What do you feel needs to change in order to reinstate the values you feel have been lost?

I read Jacques Attali’s book “A short history about the future” (Une brève histoire de l’avenir) several years ago, and it made a big impression on me. He predicts that things will get really bad, close to the edge, before we all realize that we have to turn to save ourselves and the planet. But there are signs that we hopefully will turn. There is also the issue of fake news and bad algorithms. Information is vital to make the right decisions, and at the moment too many people are targeted by fake news made by sources that have bad agendas. Hopefully this is just a passing phase until systems are made to protect privacy and to reveal fake information.

All photos are courtesy of Frank Herfort.

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