But how do you go about it?
Exactly! How can you get a proper sense of Russia, take the pulse of the country?
Well, you have to travel there, spend time talking to people and collecting their stories.
And traveling by car is the optimal solution. One can cover great distances, yet stop or divert at any point along the way, in order to follow the most interesting leads.
This project envisions a month-long automobile expedition through the heart of Russia by two photojournalists: one American, the other Russian. One was born at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the other was born during Perestroika.
Both are bilingual, experienced, curious and well traveled. They share a love of capturing and retelling great stories, and their different backgrounds and perspectives will generate a complex, nuanced view of modern Russian life – of people and places rarely visited by western media.
The American is Paul Richardson, editor of Russian Life magazine, and a journalist who has been covering all things Russian for nearly 30 years.
The Russian is Mikhail Mordasov, an award-winning photographer and journalist whose work throughout Russia over the past decade has been published in the New York Times, The Washington Post, GEO, Spiegel, Le Monde, Newsweek, the BBC and AP, and many more.
So what route will they take?
Well, as it turns out, there is a important north-south artery that spans the entire country, from Russia’s border with Norway, on the frigid shores of the Barents Sea, to the sun-lapped coasts of the newly-annexed Crimean peninsula.
It is the un-glamorously named E105, and it stretches over 3700 kilometers (2300 miles) through the beating heart of western Russia, meandering through numerous historical way-stations, offering rich opportunities for an exploration of modern Russia.
It’s sort of the Trans-Siberian of Russian roads, only it goes north and south, rather than east and west.
Importantly, for most of its length the E105 is just a two-lane road. It is not an interstate highway in the American sense. Only in and around big cities does it add a few additional lanes. This makes it an ideal artery for exploration and discovery.
What then, will be the final product?
The project will produce a beautiful, oversized 200-page book with rich, original photography and accompanying texts. Its goal will be to present a realistic, balanced, unfiltered view of life as it is lived today along the road we are calling The Spine of Russia.
The journalists will also chronicle their trip online – in text, images and video – via a website exclusively accessible to project backers. Backers will be able to interact with the journalists and, through them, with the people they meet along the way.
And why are you doing this again?
Because East-West distrust and antagonism are at levels not seen since the heights of the Cold War.
Because understanding what Russia is about, how its people see their place in the world, could not be more important than it is today.
No, we are not so naive to think that this project, this book, will change the negative environment (reset, anyone?). But it may help us understand our situation better, to begin grappling for a path out of this dark, dead end.
STRETCH GOALS! We hope to not only meet, but far exceed our funding goals with this important project. So we are announcing two stretch goals straight out of the gate…
If we meet our first stretch goal, we will make the entire photo/essay book bilingual. This will cover the extra costs of adding extra pages, hiring translators and editors, and generally producing a more ambitious end product.
The final product of this project will be a 200+ page, oversized photo book, in vivid, living color. It will be a top-notch publication (publishing is our thing, after all), but it will be a softcover book.
However, if we can reach the second stretch goal, we will upgrade the printing and production to a hardcover volume, and add more images/pages (and we’re still talking bilingual here).
We will also print extra copies (because we know that once you receive a copy, you are going to want to buy extra copies for your friends).
[SHHH… SECRET PLAN] To be revealed if we hit the first stretch goal…