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Days of Night - Nights of Day

Daily Life, third prize stories

February 2, 2013

As a protection against the inhospitable weather, buildings in Norilsk are grouped around enclosed courtyards, with narrow access passages. Norilsk, in northern Russia, is (after Murmansk) the second-largest city within the Arctic Circle, with a population of over 175,300. It is also one of the 10 most polluted cities in the world. Rich metal and mineral deposits make the region a primary global source of such commodities as nickel, cobalt, platinum and palladium, and Norilsk maintains the biggest metallurgical and mining complex in the world. Norilsk was founded in the 1930s as a factory-city, and until 1956 operated as a Soviet Gulag. During its years as a prison camp, some 17,000 people died in conditions of intense cold, starvation, and forced labor, on the mines and during the construction of the city itself. Norilsk endures an extremely harsh climate, with temperatures dropping below -50°C in the winter, and rising into the high 20s or 30s in the brief summer months. The city is covered in snow for 250-270 days a year, and experiences polar night from December to mid-January, when the sun does not rise above the horizon.

Location: Norilsk, Russian Federation


Photo Credit: Elena Chernyshova

Elena Chernyshova is a Russian documentary photographer based in France. She was born in 1981 in Moscow, USSR.

A self-taught photographer, she developed a passion for this visual language during her studies in the architectural academy. After two years of work as an architect, Elena left her job and bicycled with Gael de Cevoisier from Toulouse to Vladivostok and back again: 30,000 kilometers, 26 countries, 1,004 days of cultural, human, and challenging experiences. The trip led her to decide to become a photographer.

Photography for her is a way to investigate the daily life of different groups and communities in the context of environmental, political, and economic changes. Her work aims to visualize the impact of certain conditions of human activity, ways of adaptation, and diversity of lifestyles.

In 2011 Elena received a grant from the Lagardère Foundation to create the photo documentary ‘Days of Night – Nights of Day’ about the daily life of the industrial city of Norilsk, located 400 kilometers north of the polar circle, in Siberia.

The project has been recognized as: selection of the Circulation Photo Festival; runner up in the 2013 JGS Photography Contest, Forward Thinking Museum; and finalist in the Invisible Photographer Asia Photos Essay Awards 2013. In addition, she was awarded the 2010 Coup de Cœur of ANI (during the Visa pour l’Image festival) for the project ‘Awaiting Movement’, and was chosen as a European Emerging Talent during the Nikon International Photo Contest 2008-2009.

Elena’s work has been published in National GeographicLe MondeInternazionaleDays JapanA/R magazineNewsweek Russia, and Ecology and Life.



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