Sochi 2014, but fashionably early…
It’s rare that a single day can produce such a satisfying selection of pictures but a day trip to Adler and Sochi for an unofficial tour of the development and construction of the Olympic venues and accommodation provided just that.
With the aim of checking out some of the areas other than the Sanki sliding centre and Rosa Khutor, AFP freelancer and all-round lovely bloke Mikhail Mordasov provided the wheels and, more crucially, the local knowledge for a day on the coast. Assuming that I’d be in and out of the car all day, I carried an uber-stripped down selection of kit (for me) with a Nikon 14-24mm mounted on one D4 body, a Nikon 28-300mm f3.5-5-6 on another D4 body and the nifty fifty in my pocket.
So, here’s my day in pictures.
Heading to the Olympic Park in Adler, we managed to get up to a decent viewpoint for an overall view of the construction and development of the site; an important part of my assignment here. While it might have seemed to anyone watching my output that I was focusing on scenes of chaos and disorder, you need to capture all of these views so that they can be used to show how far the development went in a year, come Games-time. With my requests to get to the centre of the construction zones and to record the destruction of the old buildings, I’m quite convinced that the locals must have thought I was only there to do a hatchet-job.
After leaving the central area, an abandoned building presented a top-notch view-point on the Fisht Olympic Stadium. Reminding me of the cover of Led Zeppelin’s IV album, the window ticked the box for “old and new” quite nicely. The strange thing about the derelict buildings around the site is that some of them don’t seem that old at all. Not knowing how long it is since they were inhabited, I was assuming it had been years but some aspects of them looked pretty recent with paintwork in perfect condition. Mikhael even went as far as to joke about Chernobyl, a reference to the speed at which people deserted their properties to escape the radiation leak/Olympic developments.
Being used only for the opening and closing ceremonies, the Fisht Olympic Stadium looks set to be a truly fantastic stadium. It’s apparently been designed with full FIFA approval too, so it also has a future as a major host stadium for all you soccerball fans out there.
Down on the waterfront is an old concrete pier structure, an apparently regular stop-off for passing fishermen and members of the travelling media. The guys on there are so used to being shot that despite looking like wind-beaten trawlermen, they began comparing camera brands as soon as I started taking pictures. “Ahhh, Neeekon… Da.”
As I travelled through the area, it struck me how much is actually happening here, all at the same time. It seems that every building is being developed, destroyed or built-on, all while roads are being built and water pipes are laid. The logistics of doing all of this at the same time is mind-blowing. Sadly, that’s not to say that the logistics are entirely under control. Many of the roads are currently little more than dirt tracks in places, with massive pot holes and stretches of freshly-laid tarmac abruptly stopping with a kerb-height drop back down to off-road conditions. The daily tailback on the road leading from Adler up to the mountain resorts of Rosa Khutor was genuinely miles and miles in length. As soon as the Olympic lanes are completed on the new transport routes, all will return to normal, with local residents getting their roads back from the massive construction vehicles that are currently winning at “chicken” against the fleets of local Lada Nivas.
Heading away from the park and into Sochi itself, the world of grey dust, mud and concrete was suddenly torn apart by a group of people selling oranges from the side of the road. Having such an explosion of vivid colour among the muted colours was just a gift. Speaking of gifts, the sack of oranges I received on telling them that I was from England was quite a surprise. Through a rather confusing conversation, it appeared to be in exchange for me passing on a message to the people of my country so here we go then; “Georgia’s good”. On citrus-based generosity alone, I can certainly vouch for that.
Sochi feels like a totally different country to the mountain resorts where I was based. Palm trees line the roadside and high-end boutique shops fill the waterfront store area. It really does seem like you’ve been transported to Southern France in some ways and isn’t what you expect from a city that’s technically hosting a Winter Games. I say “technically” as none of the events will be taking place in Sochi itself. As the name also covers the region, it appears to have been chosen as a cover-all location.
Like most places that I’d seen since arriving, Sochi has a definite divide in wealth that was visible as we wandered around the town. The prices here have been truly eye-watering and while it’s clear that a winter sports location isn’t going to be designed to attract the poorest members of society, those that live here must have real difficulties in surviving. I mentioned the prices in Moscow airport in my previous post but even away from the typically inflated costs of a travel hub, a cup of coffee and a muffin is likely to set you back the equivalent to £11.
Going all nerdy on your ass for a moment, I have to comment on the 28-300mm lens. When I was packing to come away, I wasn’t even considering bringing it with me. The optical superiority of the Nikon 24-70mm f2.8 and 70-200mm f2.8 II lenses are a given and as they were going with me, there was no need to pack any unnecessary extra weight. Then fate decided to step in and somehow my 24-70mm went from working perfectly well on my penultimate day in London to no longer manually focusing on the day before I flew to Russia. No drops, no impacts, no falling from a helicopter. It just seized. I was not too pleased. My hand was forced and so I grudgingly left the fast lens at home and packed the lazy-boy zoom. At the end of my trip, I can honestly say it’s served me brilliantly. As I already knew, at the 300mm end of the zoom, it’s slow (f5.6) and image detail certainly fades but for this assignment it did everything I asked of it. It’s great for video, having a reliable vibration reduction system built in, plus has a wide enough range to handle whatever I came across throughout the day. I’d be tempted to see a 24-200mm lens, if they could shave it down to f2.8-4 perhaps but, as it is, this certainly won’t be automatically ruled out in future.
Aside from the usual near-bacterial spread that is Coca-Cola Olympic advertising, one of the only places where the Olympic rings can be currently seen is at Sochi-Adler airport, so it was added to the route on the way back to Rosa Khutor. Having had a few grumbles from security forces for taking pictures in the mountain venues and hearing about a colleague who spent three hours in a police station “for his own safety” after taking pictures of a building site, I was expecting police to pounce as I took pictures of the airport but no-one batted an eye. I really do hope that by this time next year, the police and army will have learned to relax their guard a little when it comes to inquisitive foreigners with cameras. One of my favourite elements of the London 2012 Games was the fact that despite a real and genuine possibility of a security threat, the media and spectators never had the sensation of being “watched”, despite high walls and security cameras. I know that doesn’t make the sense but the difference was made through the people themselves. Guards, soldiers and police all had smiles on their faces and were visibly happy to greet you and welcome you every day. When leaving in the evening, they called out a farewell and even high-fived lines of people queueing for public transport. My experience of security personnel in Russia so far has been “stern” to say the least. I asked Mikhael why they don’t smile and he replied “because they are police!” All that the 2014 Games need is a giant calming breath of air, as the venues look great and will be astounding when completed.
Trundling away from the coast, the second “juxtapicture” of the day popped up with the massive suspension bridge for the new Olympic rail and road system starkly contrasting with a small graveyard, clinging to the side of the valley. It served to further illustrate just how much change these Games are bringing to the local residents. I do feel the Winter Games will go very well after seeing the completed buildings and the potential of those yet to be finalised. The improvements to roads and amenities will certainly improve the lives of those in the area too.
With the light now pretty much gone, it just left the chance to shoot a final long exposure of the overnight construction work being carried out. There aren’t too many days on shift in London when I return to my laptop with a mixture of excitement at beginning the edit with a mild sense of concern at where to begin. Working in a different country can really serve to jump-start your “eye” again, when it comes to seeing a feature picture. As is always the case when photographers from different bureaus come to London for major events and find incredible little details we all over-look, sometimes there are pockets of photos just waiting to be harvested.