Rob Hornstra 

Kodori Valley, Abkhazia, The Sochi Project 

Kodori Valley, Abkhazia

About the artist

For several years now, Dutchman Rob Hornstra has been developing a documentary body of work that is remarkably dense and consistent. After working on the history of Iceland’s fishing communities (Roots of the Rùntur), he embarked in 2008 on an exploration of Russia with 101 Billionaires, which depicts not the 101 mega-rich the country had at the time, but rather the faces of those that capitalism forgot. In 2009, along with writer and film-maker Arnold van Bruggen, he initiated The Sochi Project, an on-going project exploring the area around Sochi and the economic, social, and physical upheaval suffered by the region since it was selected to host the 2014 Olympics. The mere timespan of The Sochi Project is ample evidence of Hornstra’s obstinacy, and of his eagerness to offer a panoramic vision of fast-changing landscapes. He very fittingly describes his approach as “slow journalism”, and sees himself as more of a photographic documentary-maker than a photographer. Hornstra has chosen to circulate his documentaries in book format rather than through exhibitions. He publishes his own work and considers that image selection and layout, but also distribution and marketing, are not peripheral tasks, but form an essential part of his work as a documentarian.
Hornstra is also a co-founder of FOTODOK - Space for Documentary Photography. He has been awarded the 2012 World Press Photo.


What is The Sochi Project about?
In 2014, the Olympic Games will take place in Sochi, Russia. In the five years leading up to the Games, The Sochi Project documents the explosive region around Sochi in the Caucasus – from the little-known, renegade country of Abkhazia in the south, to notorious breakaway republics such as Chechnya and Dagestan. Together, they form the disparate region around Sochi, which is characterised by poverty, separatism, terrorism, mass tourism and the upcoming Winter Games, the most expensive ever.
When the International Olympic Committee and the Russian machinery kick off the fabulous event in 2014, The Sochi Project will offer an alternative picture of how the region has fared during the run-up to the Games. This will be presented on an accessible website, in a number of exhibitions at different locations around the world and a small series of books focusing on specific local topics.

Tell us about these two pictures: in which region were they taken?

The dancers were shot in Adler, the city where the Olympic Games will actually take place (25 kilometres outside Sochi). I was visiting a cultural centre where we often met local people to discuss the region. In this centre, young people were studying both classical and modern dancing.
The second picture was taken on the road into the Kodori Gorge, a remote mountainous region on the border between Abkhazia and Georgia. This is part of our book ‘Empty land, Promised land, Forbidden land’ (2010), in which we explore the unknown country of Abkhazia. On a sunny day, you can see the Abkhazian border from the top of the future Olympic stadiums.

The Sochi Project is purely self-assigned: how do you manage to keep your exploration going outside the framework of an editorial assignment?
With the start of The Sochi Project in 2009, we also started a crowd funding programme. Travel and production costs (text and images) are largely covered by donors of The Sochi Project, who donate €10 (bronze), €100 (silver) or €1,000 (gold) per year. This has resulted in an annual budget of approximately €20,000. Besides the donation programme, we try to sell our work (in many different ways) and seek to obtain additional funding to complement the missing budget.

This way of working must be very time and energy consuming, but I suppose it also gives you great freedom - the freedom of taking your distances both from Western clichés about Russia and from Russian propaganda.

Thanks to our donors, we are completely independent in what we do, in where we go and in how we present the work. We don’t need to worry about things like the length of an article or about knowing if the subject fits into the medium’s marketing strategy. We only care about one thing: we must find the subject interesting.
It’s not only the choice of a subject in which we have complete freedom: the output itself is completely open. We produce books, photo albums, exhibitions, newspapers, Christmas cards, posters and more. Everything we produce starts with the idea of telling a story. Even the Christmas cards – in this case six cards in a concertina booklet - tell a little background story about the Caucasus.

Limited edition, numbered and signed. 

Selected shows and awards

MACRO Testaccio, Rome
MUSA Auf Abruf, Vienna
Berlinische Galerie, Berlin
Freelens Gallery, Hamburg

Winner of the World Press Photo, 2012
Winner of The Canon Prize for innovative journalism, 2011
Winner of the New York Photo Book Award, 2010
Honorable mention in Magnum Expression Award, 2010

Selected publications

Sochi Singers, 2011
Empty Land / Promised Land / Forbidden Land, 2010
On the other side of the mountains, newpaper, 2010
Sanatorium, 2009
101 Billionaires, 2008
Roots of the Runtur, 2006
Communism & Cowgirls, 2004

(Portrait: Marieke Wijntjes)


& order

Rob Hornstra 
Kodori Valley, Abkhazia, The Sochi Project


Technical information

Digital Lambda c-print on satin paper - limited edition, numbered and signed certificate.


33 x 40 cm, Edition of 100 250.00 €

By the same artist

Rob Hornstra

By the same curator

ART LIGUE Opening with Jörg Colberg