Last March, I spent the whole month in the Russian Far East producing a photographic essay about a place where life is unique.
Some 8,500 km [around 5,200 miles] east of Moscow and 820 km [500 miles] west of Yakutsk, in the Sakha Republic, there is a town that owes its existence to the discovery of a diamond deposit: Mirny. Founded in 1956, the town gets its name from the giant pit—a diamond mine called Mir—that sits on its outskirts. In the days of the Soviet Union, when the diamond trade was a strategic advantage, Mirny was a closed city. No foreigners could visit, and even Russians needed special permissions just to get in.
The year 2000 saw the population top out at 40,000 inhabitants. One year later, work in the Mir pit stopped, and the population started to decrease. With its current population hovering around 35,000, Mirny continues to exist for only one reason—diamonds. In 2009, an endeavor was undertaken that would retrieve the last diamonds from the deposit; according to the latest geographical explorations, there will be diamonds in this area only for the next 30 or so years. Production will likely cease by 2050.
Mirny is an example of what Russians call a “monogorod”—a city dominated by a single company. Around 50% of Mirny’s residents work for Alrosa [one of the world’s leading diamond mining companies] in some form or another. In Mirny, Alrosa has also an airline company, hotels, cultural institutions and real-estate agencies. The company also participates in political life. In sum, the city is almost wholly dependent on Alrosa’s decisions and investments.
The living conditions in Mirny are unique. With 7 months of winter, Mirny suffers prolonged periods of extreme cold, with temperatures reaching as low as -40°C [also -40°F]. The area, which is in the center of Siberia, is also very isolated. Parts of its personality are tied to its memory of being a closed city. There are still traces of the old Soviet Union, and many inhabitants yearn for the Communist era. All of this is mixed with the harsh conditions of life that are inherent to living on the permafrost.
Like the shifting earth itself, Mirny’s future is uncertain. The people who live there are acutely aware that its fate—tied to the whims of a huge company—is unpredictable. It could turn into a ghost town at a moment’s notice.
With this project, I try to explore how mankind adapts to extreme climate conditions, difficult ecological circumstances, and the loneliness (and isolation) that humans face while trying to establish lives in this region.
—Carlos Folgoso Sueiro
If you’re interested in seeing more work on this and similar topics, we’d recommend the following articles: Fairy Tale from Russia, a series of cinematic, dream-like shots of Russia—none of them staged—that speak to the cardinal importance of composition; Arctic Love, the story of a woman who traded in her city life for the arctic landscapes of Lapland; and Trade Show, an unsettling look at the capitalist economy in Europe.