Frederic Chaubin, who was born in Cambodia of a French father and Spanish mother, is chief editor of the French magazine Citizen K, and also a photographer who has been attracted by strange architecture in the former Soviet Union. The photos he takes in countries like Lithuania, Ukraine, Russia, Belarus and Georgia, reveal an extraordinary, almost sci-fi world. Today, PingMag takes you to the world of Soviet style architecture with Frederic Chaubin himself.
Written by Chiemi
Could you introduce yourself first, please?
My name is Frederic Caubin, I’m chief editor of a French magazine, Citizen K. I’ve been there for 13 years. I began to take photos for the magazine about 6 years ago. Since then, I’ve been producing features, usually related to architecture. I take photos of strange buildings in different places in different countries. Right now, I’m thinking of making a book of Soviet architecture from the 70’s and 80’s because nobody has taken photos of this specific architecture from that period.
All of the buildings in the photos you took look like something from Sci-Fi films. Were there many of these buildings in the Soviet Union?
Well, these are more like an accident. If you see the photographs all together in a small space like here, you might feel like there are quite a lot of these buildings around, but actually there are very few of them. You have to imagine that if you go to each Russian town you will only find one or two very special buildings there. But most of them are very boring and look very similar, and those here are the exceptions.
Why were they built over 20, 30 years ago?
It is difficult to figure out where the idea came from. The possible reason is because the USSR used to be a huge country with no homogeneity. Also, there were only very few connections to the rest of the world. So, most of the architects didn’t know what was happening outside of the Soviet Union.
Do you usually know in advance exactly where to go to find these buildings?
At the beginning I just found them by chance. But right now I know where they are and I know what they look like. I travel on my own and I usually ask the local national news agency to find someone to help me, or to give me some connections. They are very surprised that I go there just to take photos of old buildings. (laugh)
Where have you been to take those photos apart from the former Soviet Union?
Norway, Mexico, India, Morocco, Italy, Cambodia, Vietnam…. I’ve only had exhibitions about landscape and architecture in Norway and Caucasia though.
Is there any message behind these photos, or is there anything you want the audience to feel?
Some kind of emotion… could be nostalgia. What did you think when you first saw them?
I saw a photo of Druzhba Holiday Center on your postcard first and I was simply amazed by the look of the building, and wondered if it still existed or not because I thought this was taken in the 70s or so. It’s probably because of the atmosphere that this building creates. And this could be a very Japanese thing, but I immediately thought about earthquakes…
I shot these photos in the last 5 years, so most of them still exist but some of them have disappeared and some of them have been transformed.
This building was a joint venture between the Russians and Czechs. Czechoslovakia was the only country which sent a man to space with a Russian launcher, and they also had a satellite launcher. So it’s related to space style. When this was built, the Department of Defense in America thought this was some kind of rocket launcher. The secret service was very much afraid of it, but in fact this is just a summer camp. By the way, this one has been built with earthquake-resistant construction.
I heard that this is your first visit to Japan. What do you think about architecture in Tokyo? Have you taken any photos?
I haven’t yet, but I’m looking for places to take photos. Architecture in Tokyo is very beautiful and very impressive. It’s much more impressive than these buildings. This is more like a monster collection, like collecting strange things. But buildings around here are very beautiful.
Do you have any plans for the future?
Going to Armenia to keep on working on the collection. And also I’m planning to build a website with these photos. I’m still thinking of how to do it, but probably showing a map and just click the map and you will see a photo of that area.
Thank you very much for showing us a great collection of photographs today, Frederic. I really want to visit one of them in the future too.
Paul Smith SPACE in Jingumae
Paul Smith SPACE in Jingumae
You can see more of his amazing work at his first solo exhibition “Soviet SF Style” at Paul Smith SPACE in Jingumae till Sunday 24th September. If you don’t have a chance to visit there, check out his magazine “Citizen K“!