Soviet Ghosts

Soviet Ghosts, by Rebecca Litchfield

Is there anything more fascinating than photos of decaying Soviet buildings?  I think we all know the answer is no

Rebecca Litchfield took a bunch of photos in old buildings from all over the former USSR, and East Germany as well.  They're arranged in thematic chapters, almost like a social studies textbook: daily life, military, education, health, sport...and so on.  Each chapter has a little introductory essay, but the photos are the important bit.

Random thoughts about these photos:

Wow, there is a remarkable amount of robin's egg blue paint. 

Many of the photos look like people just walked away, like maybe there was not a lot of official closing down and clearing out.  There's not just furniture, there are mattresses, medicine/chemical bottles, school equipment -- things you would think would be wanted elsewhere even if the institution closed.  There is one empty swimming pool with the lane-dividing ropes still hanging in space.  Where did all the people go?

I wish there was more explanation of the photos -- they are presented with location and nothing else -- but I imagine that was both an artistic and a practical choice.  The photos are mysterious without explanations, and anyway I suppose in many cases those who could explain are gone or not easy to find.  It's one thing to wander through an abandoned hospital, and another to track down a former nurse.

The chapter essays do not always make a ton of sense.  Luckily that isn't very important, but they aren't deep or very helpful, and they're sometimes contradictory or weirdly exculpatory about Stalin.  Sometimes the sentences are off, like they've been put through Google translator.  The photos don't always really fit into the chapter headings, either, and I sort of wonder why anyone bothered with a bunch of divisions.

A few of the photos look too staged.  I do not believe that an abandoned schoolroom was found with a doll sitting on a chair and a gas mask hung on the back of said chair.

There ARE a remarkable number of gas masks, though.  One truly bizarre photo (not the one below) that took me a while to figure out is a sort of small auditorium in a Russian sanatorium, and there are groups of gas masks hanging off the ceiling like light fixtures.  But they are all still there, which I have to wonder about; surely people would have grabbed some of them while exploring.

Of course, there's a section of photos of Pripyat.  I suppose that's mandatory, although it also seems like you could skip it on the grounds that everybody already knows about Luna Park.

Not all of the photos are from former Soviet sites.  One neat image is of a Russian Black Widow submarine...that is on display in the UK.  (Where?  I want to visit it.)  Oddly, a few of the final photos are from Auschwitz.  I don't know what they are doing in there, along with a bunch of great images of massive Soviet monuments.

The images I like best are of old, disintegrating murals and monuments.  I really wish I could go see them myself.


  1. I love these photos, there's something special about abandoned buildings in general and adding a (more or less) abandoned ideology only adds to it. I hadn't heard of this book so thanks for reviewing it!

  2. I've seen some of these online, but didn't know there was a book. Definitely want to check this out some time!


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