Misha (black), Robert (white) and me (red) in Moscow in 2005, when I just started the project.
Russian Fairytales is my personal passion project, which tells my visual story of Russia within a period of almost two decades in Russia. It all started in the cloakroom of the Moscow State Kremlin Palace in 2000, where I did my first photograph in Russia on my first trip to Russia. A friend invited me just for a two week holiday trip to Moscow. This was a very magic time and I was fascinated of all these sceneries and stories, which happened in the city. The snow, the cold, the people, the grey, the dirt, the furs, the girls, the Ladas, the glam, the poor, the rich, the chaos and the lightness and good-naturedness of the Russians. I know, I would come back again. But it passed some years, and I almost finished my photo study in Hamburg and London, when I got a call from a friend, who worked this time in Moscow. I talked 20 minutes with him on the phone. During that conversation, I felt Moscow was calling me. I left my 12 sqm London-Hackney apartment ( which is now a really cool place ), made a detour to Hamburg, where I got my personal belongings and quickly sublet my apartment. I met Misha, my native-speaking Russian assistant, packed a lot of photo equipment ( too much ) and bought a set of snow tyre chains for the trip to the East. It was a time, when winters still were winters, and with every 100 km east-way, the temperature dropped down for another 1 degree celcius. It passed not more then three weeks and I met almost frozen Robert, the guy I called from London, at minus 18 degree in fully snow-covered Moscow.
This was my first photograph, which I took in Russia. The cloakroom of the Moscow State Kremlin Palace in 2000.
After my first real visit of three month in Moscow in 2005, I developed my shooting style for this serie and worked entirely on my Sinar 4x5 inch and Hasselblad camera and used my super heavy Profoto Lighting Kit. I loved all these public interiors and the people in it and checked out any place and location in Moscow. At this time, I didn´t speak any russian word, but I loved just to listen it. For me it was always the french of the east. But, I could not go on with translation all the time, I´m just too impatient for waiting till the translation ends. And honestly, russian and an english translation are two different worlds. So, today, I even speak russian, which is really helpful, because you can use it from East-Berlin to Japan and from the North Pole to Afghanistan. After some time, I got more and more photo assignments in Russia for international magazines and also for local advertising campaigns. So, I left Germany in 2007 and moved to Moscow. Nobody could understand that, because all my fellow students went to New York, Paris or to trendy Berlin. But yes, I love the challenging way and decided for Moscow where I lived permanently until 2013.
During the last 15 years, I used almost every free time, in between my commercial work, for discovering and photographing new stories for my project. At the beginning I just photographed all things which were interesting and exotic for me and didn´t thought about making a serie or reportage or even a book out of it. I was always interested in shooting single photograhs, which shows own worlds and stories in one single image. For me the classical reportage style was not very exciting, where you photograph 30 images, but showing actually always the same. I think you can tell a story much better in showing just one image and skip the before, after and in between. This is for me photography, the art of using just one frame. Using your imagination and fantasy. This was and still is my concept for creating my images. So, after a while, I put these pictures together and noticed that despite the different subjects, there is still a big and whole picture about Russia. At that moment, I called the work "Russian Fairy Tales" , actually I use the old version fairytales, beause I like it more, and keeped working on the series with this idea. I think "fairytales" go well with my pictures, because the Russian soul of life describes them well. No matter how difficult or how much problems life creates, it is always presented beautifully and colorfully and mostly ends with a happy ending. While on a shooting for the ID magazine, I met another foreign photographer, who were shooting an ad campaign for Lada cars in the backyard of his studio. Finally, I fell in love with his assistant, who later become my wife and so my own russian fairy tales started.
New cosmic playground in Leipzig - moving into the soviet-bloc apartment after leaving our 240 sqm Art-Deco flat - my older brother give me a ride in a space stroller
Being a photographer was always my dream job. Until the last days of school time, I could not really imagine what to work and going to the same work place everyday at the same hours for several years. But, god thanks, I found my way and enjoy every minute doing this. I was born and grown up in the peace-revolution town of Leipzig in East-Germany. I´m proud of that I could spent my first 10 years in a communist system and continued my teenager period in a capitalist system. I guess, I have my interest for the East from my first years. And that my childhood was just cutted off, which I continued in a certain way in this work. I remember old soviet airplanes installed like monuments and cars called Moskvich painted in pastel colors and the biggest Lenin Head at Karl-Marx-Street in Berlin. And also, I can still hear the deafening screeching of the tank chains from a armored column of Soviet soldiers who made their way back to the barracks, near hour home.
me at age 5 or 6 in front of a Trabant 601deluxe
After the fall of the Berlin wall, everything immediately changed and people started counting money instead of friends. Landscapes got covered with huge advertising billboards. I was, too young to understand what is going on, but several years later, I was always curios, what actually Russia means and what is this for a country, where people in my age, have more or less the same history. I rediscovered a lot of things and continued my photographic journey east of the Brandenburg Gate with my story Russian Fairytales.
Frank Herfort in a studio in Berlin