June 12 – August 30, 2015
FORUM 036: Monika Höfler – Russian Summer

In August 2012, Monika Höfler from Munich travelled to a dacha colony near the Russian city of Kazan on the Volga River. This is where she shot documentary photos and portraits to document life in Russia’s cottages in the country – the location for one of the country’s greatest cultural phenomena. These cottages are collective places of retreat, far removed from urbanization, corruption, and capitalism. Russians spend the summer months in a dacha to experience a brief period of spiritual and material freedom. The dacha season in Russia begins on May 9. The daily lives of each individual 'dachnik', as the residents are called, follow a virtually identical pattern and consist of living the simple life – swimming, taking saunas, sitting around with friends, drinking vodka – and soaking up the beautiful summer weather.

And yet a glimpse behind the scenes reveals some significant differences between the lives of the neighbors. Monika Höfler’s images expose considerable social inequality telescoped into a very small space – mirroring the state of Russian society as a whole. In the dacha colony, people whose lives involve a daily fight for survival in harsh conditions live cheek by jowl with the nouveau riche who make no secret of their immense riches and flaunt their wealth for all to see.

Monika Höfler has taken us right to the heart of this special world with her numerous portrait photos, including:

... Pasha, the founder of a small ad agency, and his family
... Farida, a lawyer who no longer needs to work, and her husband Vladimir
... Alexei Nikolaevich Solopov, who brokers Uzbek immigrant laborers
... Khamil Shaydarov, an oligarch from Kazan, with his poor neighbors

Despite many striking differences between these Russians, Monika Höfler’s documentary and portrait photos provide profound insights into their cheerful, relaxed, and carefree attitude toward life, a mindset that remains alien to many westerners.

Biography

Monika Höfler (b. 1977 in Gräfelfing near Munich) studied at the Staatliche Fachakademie für Fotodesign (State Academy for Photographic Design) in Munich from 1998 to 2001, and then worked as an assistant to portrait, fashion, and news photographers.

She has worked as a freelance photographer since 2002 for international magazines and agencies, including Geo, Stern magazine, The New York Times, and the Süddeutsche Zeitung.

Monika Höfler has received many accolades for her photography. She was nominated for the Henri Nannen Award (2010) for her ‘Life without Ritalin’ series about children with ADHD and won the German Photobook Gold Prize in 2012 for her publication ‘Sight-Seeing’.