Plane Watchers
Project info

A photographic project Plane Watchers follows the lives of a group of people who have, after the collapse of the USSR, kept living in Estonia in accordance to the old, now out-to-date system. I call them the plane watchers, as their shanty-town that was built in the Soviet era, is located right next to the Lennart Meri airport in Tallinn and the air above it is constantly abuzz with landing and launching airplanes. In order to capture the Soviet atmosphere I have used the camera Ljubitel and latitude negative film – to my mind, the sterility of digital photographs cannot convey the authenticity of the human spirit.

About 40 years ago the workers of former military factory Dvigatel were given plots of land for growing vegetables. This arrangement was intended only for temporary use but also for an unspecified period. That was the beginning of a weird cabin colony, where the representatives of our friendly sister nations spent decades cultivating their vegetable plots and erecting new additions to already numerous hovels.

From early spring to late autumn this was a place for sweet idyllic village life, only a short distance from the bustling and noisy city – true Soviet people were busy weeding and watering, the sounds of Garmoshka filled the air in the evenings, and children were running around barefoot. Come winter and the residents of dacha-district hide away in their suburban warrens, only to slip out and stick their fingers in the soil again in spring.
In the course of time some people settled permanently in the surroundings of the airport. City apartments were sold or given at the disposal of the next generation.

The collapse of Soviet empire brought about certain changes even in the life of Soodevahe shanty town. Capitalist rule deepened social stratification. Younger generation was no longer interested in idyllic country life. Shanty town became the demesne of old-age pensioners. Furthermore, an entirely new type of residents emerged. Almost overnight the area became exposed to the poor and the homeless, who were not supposed to exist under the fertile conditions of the Soviet rule. Such people found refuge in the cabins near the airfield. However, their attitude distinguished them clearly from the permanent habitants. They used to occupy an empty shack and after the place was completely ravaged or even burnt down they moved to another abandoned dacha.

Although Tallinn Airport became the new owner of the land of the former collective farm, it took years to figure out what to do about this weird urban region. The first impressions of those arriving to Estonia by plane were rather creepy and made them feel insecure.
Today the decision sealing the fate of this area has finally been made. Demolition of dachas and improvement of the aerial perspective or “visual calling card” puts an end to this stuck-in-time district raised decades ago. The spring of 2014 will be the last one for Soodevahe shanty town…

New life is a possibility only for the newer generations. Destroying allotments rearranges peoples’ lives. People can’t be forced into learning to live in a new way. Land left empty, houses falling apart reflect the feelings of Russians living in Estonia: you’re at home, yet you’re homeless, your system is not part of the general system.
My aim is to show the last phase of vanishing and disappearing community who has lost sympathy and compassion from the younger generations due to the reason that the time is just going on. I hope to achieve with my portraits of the plane watchers to save the memory of these simple and common people who have took on trust in non-existing power.

Annika Haas