CNN Photos

Exploring post-Soviet architectural oddities

Frank Herfort is fascinated by the uniquely shaped buildings that have seemed to sprout from the ground since the end of the Soviet era.

Some of the German photographer's images of these eye-catching structures are published in his new book, "Imperial Pomp: Post-Soviet High-Rise."

Many are business headquarters or large residential buildings. The majority of them are less than 10 years old.

They are imposing symbols of creativity and optimism that Herfort suspects would take many people by surprise.

"I want to show the reputation there, the power," he said. "It's also a signal of the new Russian time."

Herfort says there’s more to Russia and the region than Vladimir Putin, sexual mores and cold winters, which the public tends to focus on, but he’s not trying to make a statement with his photography.

"For me, it was more a visual game than political intent," he said. "My main intent was to show how crazy (the buildings) look."

The 34-year-old photographer, who is based in Berlin, spends much of time working in Russia and captured many of his photos there. The collection also includes places like Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Belarus.

Glimpses of the surrounding areas – sometimes quite bleak or in contrast to the skyscraper of note – can be seen in many of the photos. The people nearby are just going about their lives, oblivious to the camera's watchful eye.

Maybe it's fitting that Herfort often drove around to his project sites in a blue Volga, a car that originated in the Soviet Union. The cars ceased production a few years ago, and his was among the last ever made.

In Moscow he encountered relatively organized landscapes. One structure is very similar to Big Ben in London, a Russian architect's seeming hat tip to Western style.

When he went to Kazakhstan, Herfort turned his eye to some very surreal locations that were just desert or steppe landscapes a mere 10 years ago. The capital city, Astana, has been described as the world's weirdest capital city after it was built from almost nothing in the late 1990s.

"All the city looks really plastic, actually," he said. "It's really strange. I think it's interesting to see."

Herfort started visiting Moscow in the early 2000s and was fascinated by the architecture that, while imposing and impressive, appeared completely separate from the buildings nearby.

After taking a few pictures of these places, and in particular the unique skyscrapers he was seeing, he decided to make a true photography project out of it.

He worked meticulously to get the right perspective or lighting for his shots. This might mean one or two well-planned visits to the site.

Perhaps most challenging of all were the famously cold winters in the region. Herfort sought out the oblique light of Russian winters that make skyscrapers stand out while diminishing the landscape below.

This meant taking his large-format camera into temperatures averaging about -18 to -20 degrees Celsius, or about -4 degrees Fahrenheit.

But because the camera settings must be established manually, using gloves was out of the question. Thus, he used a system in which he would get his camera ready in his heated car and jump in and out as quickly as possible, staying only long enough to get the shot.

The result of his efforts is a collection that illustrates what he believes is a certain kind of optimism for the future among those in long-embattled former Soviet Union.

"I feel that the people want to change something, and the people want to scream out," he said. "It's a kind of revolution. They want to make things different. There's a really positive aspect to it."

- Nicole Saidi, CNN