In documenting a unique phenomenon, the German photographer Frank Herfort has journeyed to the most remote areas of the former Soviet Union. After the collapse of the regime, a strangely pompous architectural style sprung up throughout the new republic. It conflates the aesthetics of monumental Soviet architecture with the Western language of form seen in the twentieth century.

Frank Herfort travelled all over Russia for a photographic project that lasted several years, following the ideas of architectural photography and taking pictures of skyscrapers that had been quickly built after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The force and magnitude of these buildings appears bizarre, pompous and exotic; equally they evoke larger-than-life Soviet memorials. They express a longing for lost greatness and the ambition to go one better. Contextual contradictions however add another completely different grace note: the Russian residential buildings and faded idylls around the new constructions introduce a second level of meaning to the images, which poses questions and raises enigmas.

Frank Herfort’s photographs are personal invitations to explore self-contained worlds that startle with rich detail and vibrant color. Based in both Berlin and Moscow, Frank has made exploring the contrasts and contradictions of life in contemporary Russia a central focus of his artistic work. Whether situated in the austere, crumbling remains of Soviet society or the opulent homes of modern Russian oligarchs, the spellbinding results demonstrate a singular talent for documentary storytelling. These immersive environments intrigue, combining people with riveting places seemingly caught out of both time and context.

—Frank Herfort

Don’t miss the work of all the other winners and finalists from the LensCulture Visual Storytelling Awards 2014. In total, you’ll find 25 powerfully told stories from across the world.