This photographic project explores dimensions of social change in Eastern Europe after the Soviet Union through the case study of one city. Using a form of snapshot ‘street photography’, the work develops an allegory about the cultural issues arising from the economic and social transformations of communism to capitalist consumerism in the Baltic city, Tallinn, Estonia. The photographs also reference the film Stalker (1979), directed by Andrei Tarkovsky and shot in Tallinn. The work challenges assumptions about how a Western photographer can ‘know’ a foreign place, whilst offering a dialogue on the new reality of ‘post-communist’ culture. The work is organised in diptychs to address the conflicts involved in dramatic social change but avoids the usual journalistic sensationalist themes (prostitution and poverty) for the social change seen in more ‘everyday’ things. It also draws on Bate’s research work on Surrealism.
The work was made during Bate’s Visiting Professorship at the Estonian Academy of Art, Tallinn (2001 – 2005) and developed in consultation with art historians, social theorists, artists and photography students in Tallinn and Tartu University. Independent research was conducted into the history of art and photography in the Baltic region, including cinema and semiotic theory, and the social history of the region.
The project was initially funded by the British Council and the Art Academy, Tallinn. Zone has been exhibited internationally, first in Tallinn City Art Gallery, then Ireland, UK, France, Belgium, USA and Turkey. Selected photographs were published with an essay by Estonian art historian Katrin Kivima in Portfolio (Issue 34) and Cheese magazine (Estonia). A complete book of photographs is planned for publication in 2008 (Danielle Arnaud Contemporary Art), which will include a narrative of photographs in this series shot by Bate between 2001-2006.