A One Storied Country – Interview

We talk to, Chris Bierl, author of our upcoming book A One Storied Country

Firstly, please tell us the journey behind A One Storied Country ? What led you to making it?

It happened randomly like most things in life. Everything started back in 2016. It was my first journey to Russia after I met my now-wife, Svetlana. She wanted to introduce me to her family and show me the region where she grew up. On the way to her grandparents’ village, we crossed a small river and she casually mentioned that she was not allowed to play close to the riverbanks as a child. This statement stayed with me from then on and was the starting point of our upcoming journeys to Russia in the later years. 

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I realised that the small river Теча (Tetcha), that joins into the Isset river, was and likely still might be one of the radioactively most polluted waters of the former Soviet Union. Its origin lies beside the closed city of Ozyorsk, where one of the biggest nuclear facilities of the Russian Federation is located. This is where Stalin developed parts of his first atomic bomb and where in 1956 the third biggest nuclear catastrophe after Chernobyl and Fukushima happened.

It fitted perfectly in my field of interest and work and I immediately knew that I wanted work on a photo book. What I didn’t expect was that my travels and research would lead me to so many more interesting places in this heavily industrialized area and to such an amount of photographs within just 3 years. 

How did you find your first image behind this idea and what does it show?

CB: In this case the idea didn’t lead to the first image, it was the first image that led to the idea. I shot it the day we crossed the river Теча (Tetcha). I asked my now-father-in-law to stop the car after Svetlana told her story. I followed the impulse, stepped out of the car, walked back and photographed the river for the first time. Actually this photo didn’t make it in the book. In the end it was another of these dangerous waters.

Could you tell us how you landed on the title ‘A One Storied Country

CB: When I travel I often start my photo walks in precarious working districts. I think I am more interested in working-class people and maybe based on my own origin I feel more connected to them.

In Russia there is a saying that the whole country is built in one story, which means something like the country is built on simple people, workers in industry and agriculture, who originally lived in simple wooden houses. I liked the phrase a lot, because it summarizes a lot in just one sentence and if you play around a bit with the translation the title becomes ambiguous, because the word story is somehow included. 

Regarding multi-storied buildings on the other side, which appeared in rural areas already in the 60s with the Khrushchyovka apartment buildings, the phrase becomes an ambivalent word game that gets even multiplied by socialistic apartment blocks and nowadays suburban architecture. A One Storied Country – the whole book in one title – kind of. 

Chris Bierl is a German, Berlin-based, artist and photographer. He is interested in the relationship between mankind and nature, our understanding of wild, domestic and manmade landscapes as well as society’s integration in cityscapes and the sociocultural surrounding. He received a diploma in Photography at the University of Applied Sciences in Munich and post-graduated in Media Arts at the Academy of Visual Arts in Leipzig. 

Help us make this book a reality by pre-ordering the Collectors Edition now.