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Capturing the Essence of Summer on the Black Sea

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Young swimmers near the harbor of Novorossiysk, Russia.

This post was originally published in December 2013. We’re resurfacing it as part of our #ThrowbackThursday effort to give some love to our favorite posts.—The Proof Team

After covering conflict and other difficult subjects, some photojournalists can reach a burnout point. It’s not surprising that this often leads them to work on side projects that are, well, less heavy in nature.

Mathias Depardon, a freelance photographer based in Istanbul, had a brief experience covering conflict photography in Libya before realizing he wanted to redirect his energy into work like his most recent project, “Black Sea Postcards,” which delves into the many cultural layers of the Black Sea region—made up of the coastal areas of Turkey, Georgia, Russia, Ukraine, Romania, and Bulgaria.

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Young men jump into the Black Sea near the harbor in Novorossiysk, Russia. In 1942, the town was occupied by Germans, but a small unit of Soviet sailors defended one part of the town, known as Malaya Zemlya, for 225 days. Novorossiysk was awarded the title ‘Hero City’ in 1973.

Depardon says he was drawn to the region because of its history, which has post-Soviet influences in some areas, and European or Middle Eastern influences in others.

“It seems like the younger generation carefully purges memories of Soviet times, but the older inhabitants cling on to ideas of security delivered through communism,” he said. “I wanted to trace the visual scars of past eastern European conflicts, of an unadorned daily life, of diminished prosperity. I wanted to feel this paradoxical coexistence between the former Soviet Union socialism and the fervent liberalism that has taken root in the region and persists to this day.”

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A man checks out competitors at the annual Kirkpinar Oil-Wrestling tournament in Edirne, Turkey. The tournament has been held annually since 1346, usually in late June, at the town near the Greek-Turkish border.
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Muslim women swim wearing abayas on the beach near Zonguldak, Turkey.

Depardon says this project was unlike past projects because of its fluid nature: “Every day I woke up with no idea of what I was going to find.”

This approach was entirely different from his experience covering news events, where he follows the action and can loosely predict what might happen each day. He said it was a therapeutic change for him after covering immigration, natural disasters, and the Arab Spring, even though it required several months of work, including days where his search for images came up dry. But his persistence paid off—resulting in photos that have the light, effervescent quality of being on holiday, while showcasing the region’s storied history at the same time.

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A local vendor sells inflatable rafts in front of a hotel in the popular holiday resort town of Sunny Beach, Bulgaria.
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A woman lies on an immense memorial at Malaya Zemlya, in Novorossiysk, Russia. The structure represents the Russian defeat of the Germans at this outpost in 1943.
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Tourists stand by the Aquapark swimming pool, in the popular holiday resort town of Sunny Beach, Bulgaria.

Traditionally, postcards show us small snippets of a place, yet are also meant to convey something about its meaning or significance—whether it’s a landmark or landscape. So, while Depardon’s project is essentially an essay about a body of water and the people who live there, his “postcards” showcase the uniqueness of the region while still containing the weight of a complex past.

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A man tries to fix an engine problem in Batumi, Georgia.
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A man takes a bath in sulfur water from the spring of Matesta, in a sanatorium in Sochi, Russia.
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The oceanfront in Sukhum, the capital of Abkhazia—a disputed region on the Black Sea. Abkhazia considers itself to be an independent state, while the Georgian government considers it to be part of Georgia.

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