© Dmitry Lookianov
The Strange Beauty of Soviet Sanatoriums.
An international collaborative project started in 2015 by London based journalist Maryam Omidi.
To document and preserve the sanatoriums, Omidi began a Kickstarter campaign with the intent to publish a photobook - The Last Resort. Using connections from her work as a journalist, she found six talented photographers to sign on for the project who had experience working in post-Soviet countries. Omidi chose the photographers (Michal Solarski, Claudine Doury, Olya Ivanova, Rene Fietzek, Egor Rogalev, and Dmitry Lookianov) for their photographic style and plans to give them each free reign in choosing how to cover their subjects.
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Soviet architecture often conjures up images of monolithic building blocks, but the era’s sanatoriums are among the most diverse and experimental structures of that time. Similar to modern-day spas but with a strong medical component, Soviet workers would spend a week or two each year at a sanatorium, paid for by the state, so that they could recover from the exertions of their labour.
This book will be the first to offer a comprehensive collection of photographs and text on Soviet-era sanatoriums, both their history, and, more importantly, their afterlives. To be clear: this isn't ruin porn; the focus will be on those sanatoriums still in operation. The book will be an exploration of the utopian ideals that these sanatoriums were built upon, the unconventional treatments that they offer and the individual stories of those who visit them.
From the steppes of Kazakhstan to the wine-growing regions of Georgia, our team of six photographers and one writer will travel across the former Soviet Union to document the best sanatoriums from this era. Expect lush interiors, evocative portraiture and stunning architectural photography alongside in-depth interviews with guests and employees.
Today there are many sanatoriums sprinkled across the post-Soviet space in varying states of decay. Their construction began in 1920 and continued right up until the collapse of the Soviet Union. According to Professor Diane Koenker, by 1922, two weeks of annual holiday were enshrined in the labour code and at their peak in 1990, the Soviet Union’s sanatoriums could house more than half a million guests at any time.
The question of leisure was one that preoccupied Soviet thinkers; free time and work were not separate but connected with the former seen as a way of increasing productivity. The spirit of the annual sojourn was pithily captured in 1966 by S Antonov, a metal fitter and model of socialist labour, who told a newspaper: “I receive my vacation once a year and I try not to waste a single day of it in idleness.”
Soviet workers were sent to sanatoriums once a year so that they could return refreshed and ready for work. Workers in the toughest industries, such as mining, were prioritised over others. Stays at sanatoriums were overseen by doctors; even sunbathing was monitored by health professionals. In addition to bathing in thermal waters and undergoing therapeutic mud treatments, sanatorium guests would engage in physical exercise and stick to a nutritious diet.
Idea and text: Maryam Omidi