Far And Wide

Panoramic scenes from Eastern Europe

Kaliningrad, Russia, 2007 Jens Olof Lasthein
Kaliningrad, Russia, 2007 Jens Olof Lasthein
01 March, 2014

ON A WARM SUMMER AFTERNOON IN 2006, Jens Olof Lasthein headed out of the city of Grigoriopol in the independent but internationally unrecognised breakaway state of Transnistria, framed by the Ukranian border to its east and the Dneister River to its west, beyond which lies Moldova, which continues to claim sovereignty over the territory. As he followed the Dneister, he saw a man swimming in the river, holding on to a goose. As Lasthein ran forward to take a picture, the man let the goose go. He still remembers his disappointment at missing the shot.

Lasthein resumed walking until he came to an old, unused ferry dock, where a barge stood rusting on the riverbank. A horse-drawn carriage approached, and a man climbed out, accompanied by his son and daughter-in-law. They had come to the river to wash their horse and some rugs. Lasthein took pictures while the son rode the horse into the Dniester’s swirling currents, and then as the family swam with geese, snacked on watermelon, drank vodka and smoked cigarettes until the afternoon turned into evening. Lasthein left them, and crossed the border into the Moldovan district of Dubăsari.

Lasthein has many such memories from his 20 years of roving through Eastern Europe. Born in Sweden in 1964 and raised in Denmark, early in his life Lasthein developed a fascination for the sharp cultural differences created by “the division of Europe by the Iron Curtain,” and for “the people living on the other side.” “I studied Russian to be able to talk with them when I eventually could go there myself,” he said.

Lasthein visited Moscow for the first time in 1982, when he was 18 years old. At the age of 20, he hitchhiked alone through Eastern Europe for a few months. “These two experiences made such a deep impression on me that I kept coming back,” he said. “It was, and still is, a matter of being a stranger and at home at the same time.” His interest in photography grew gradually alongside his penchant for the region. The compilation “White Sea Black Sea,” from which these photographs are drawn, is a record mostly from six years (2001–2007) of Lasthein’s travels in the region between the cities of Arkhangelsk in northern Russia and Odessa in southern Ukraine.

Lasthein’s process is simple: he starts walking around a chosen area early in the morning and stays out shooting until the light has gone. The sense of unreality—or what Lasthein calls “magic”—in these scenes comes largely from his unusual use of the wide-frame format. Taken with a Widelux 35mm camera, Lasthein’s panoramas capture, rather than sweeping natural vistas, the nuances of intimate human scenes. “When I first discovered the panoramic camera more than 20 years ago, it was like finding my eyes and my mood,” Lasthein said. “I like being in the middle of a situation and still getting everything in the frame.”