The Sochi Project: A Photographic Documentary

Behind every story is an even bigger story. Even as the world is focused on the Winter Olympics, each country edging on its athletes to win a medal, preferably gold, Rob Hornstra and Arnold van Bruggen quietly researches and reports on the region which “contrasts […] strongly with the glamour of the [Olympic] Games.”

They travelled for five years through Sochi, Abkhazia and the North Caucasus, to witness the construction of the most expensive Olympics ever. Twelve billion dollars to build stadiums and facilities that are surrounded by some of Russia’s poorest regions.

Rob Hornstra is a photographer and self-publisher of slow-form documentary work. He is also the founder and former artistic director of FOTODOK―Space for Documentary Photography. Hornstra is represented by Flatland Gallery, Utrecht, The Netherlands.

Arnold van Bruggen (texts) is a writer and filmmaker, and founder of the journalistic production agency Prospektor, and a cofounder, with Hornstra, of the Sochi Project. Various elements of the Sochi Project have garnered awards, including the Canon Prize for innovative photojournalism in 2010; the Magnum Expression Award in 2011; the Sony World Photography Award (Arts & Culture category) in 2012; and the World Press Photo award for Arts & Entertainment Stories in 2012.

Read / watch the Sochi Project.

Every four years, the world witnesses a grandiose coming together of the nations in what is meant to be a friendly breaking down of barriers, mistrust and hostilities. We marvel at what our youths can accomplish. We cheer for “our” teams and athletes. We choke up with pride and emotion at the number of medals our country wins. We feel very nationalistic at these times.

Then, when the Games end and the lights are extinguished, after the invisible workers have cleared up the last debris and picked up the last piece of trash, the doors of the stadiums are locked and city officials furrow their brows at how they are going to be able to pay all the bills, provide affordable housing to the population, attract investment to provide jobs — the celebrations, hooplas, exploding fireworks and gold medals a dimming memory. Ah, if only we have 12 billion dollars at our disposal, they sadly muse.

The Olympics do bring better infrastructure to the cities it is held in. For example, the 2012 Summer Olympics left Athens with a significantly improved infrastructure, including a new airport, ring road, and subway system. Yet, four years later, while Beijing was gearing up for its turn in the limelight, Greece was grappling with the sites built for the Games. While some of them were put to good use for concerts and sports events, most stay closed up. To put things bluntly, the Olympics drained Greece’s public finances. The Athens 2004 Games cost around 13 billion euros. But what is €13 billion when you are about to default 4 years later with a debt of €350 billion?

Enjoy watching the Sochi Olympics and be glad your city is not the one hosting it.