CNN Photos

Tracing the past along the Black Sea's coast

After spending a couple months covering Libya’s civil war in 2011, French photographer Mathias Depardon decided he was not cut out for conflict photography.

He then thought about what is left behind after a conflict, and began researching the coastline of the Black Sea.

Speaking only French and English, Depardon traveled along the coast, stopping in all six countries that border the sea: Russia, its former republics Ukraine and Georgia, and Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania.

"I wanted to trace the visual scars of past Eastern European conflicts, of an unadorned daily life, of diminished prosperity," Depardon said.

He was hoping "to leave behind the raging battles to revisit the shores, and look at the menacing storms, of a controversial region that has … been the theater of tensions."

Those tensions were apparent in Abkhazia – a disputed region that considers itself independent, but is considered by the United States and most other countries, with Russia being a glaring exception, to be part of Georgia.

Depardon says government officials "asked me to come inside a BMW and took me on a ride. Asking me questions and wanting to look at my pictures to see if I had photographed any military positions during my stay."

"I felt very much that even though the conflict (with Georgia) had stopped since the '90s … there were still tensions with the two territories."

Not everyone he met was trying to forget the Soviet past.

Along his journey, Depardon said he met a woman named Olga in Sochi, Russia, who had worked as a translator in a sanitarium for 40 years as well as translating Italian films for the wife of former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

She spoke of the Soviet Union with nostalgia, he said, which was difficult for him to understand.

"The new generation carefully blacks out their memory of the former Soviet Republic, while the oldest generation still clings to the ideas of security brought to them through Communism," he said. "With money and prosperity now the key focus of their daily lives, many have lost their cultural identity as they strive towards a Western European lifestyle."

Despite the language barrier and his unfamiliarity with the region, Depardon found "the biggest challenge was to just wander for several weeks.

The project became a "therapeutic trip," Depardon said, as "I tried to reconcile with myself photographically."

"I mean, it was the first time I was (working) on a photo essay without having to deal with a proper journalistic feature, a journalistic angle, a theme to develop, a story to tell," Depardon said.

"It was a virgin feeling. It's just never the same afterwards."

- Clint Alwahab, CNN