Review: Safety First by The Sochi Project


Book Reviews, Photobooks


It’s the photographer’s nightmare: You have your luggage run through one of the x-ray security scanners at an airport, and your film gets damaged. Of course, you can always try to get your film hand inspected - provided you’re using a US airport, say, but things aren’t as easy to control when you’re in parts of the world where x-ray scanners are everywhere, and where x-ray machines might or might not date from ye olden days. This is the situation Rob Hornstra of The Sochi Project found himself in in Grozny, the capitol of Chechnya: “In the Chechen capital, these scanners are not only placed at the entrance to the airport or government buildings, but also to shops, gyms, restaurants and outside on squares.” (more)

Safety First is the result of one scanner going a bit overboard, damaging a whole batch of exposed film. The images in the book all suffer from artifacts caused by radiation. The artifacts aren’t all that bad actually, typically “just” a line or two going through each frame, but still, the damage is done.

Safety First is what The Sochi Project call a Sketchbook, a side product if you want, published in addition to the regular photobooks produced as part of the project. The project entirely relies on donations from supporters and from grants - Rob and his partner/writer Arnold van Bruggen have been actively using crowd-funding before it became popular, before sites likes Kickstarter or were born. The proceeds of the book will go towards funding future work.

Since the photography in the book essentially covers little over a day - none of the other film got damaged - Safety First provides an overview of how the photographer spent his time, whom - and how - he was photographing. Occasionally, photographers publish their contact sheets, and often, the one shot you are familiar with clearly is the only worthwhile image. In contrast, this book is not filled with lots of bad photographs and the occasional good one. Instead, the majority of the images are very interesting. It’s not a real contact sheet, of course. But it’s still very interesting to see how the images are framed, the different variations, etc. So the book also offers a glimpse into how this particular photographer is working, something we probably wouldn’t have seen had the film not been damaged.

Safety First, photographs by Rob Hornstra, essay by Arnold van Bruggen, 48 pages, The Sochi Project, 2011

See my presentation of the book here