This photographic project, Plane Watchers, follows the lives of a group of people who have, after the collapse of the USSR, kept living in Estonia in accordance to the old ways. I call them the plane watchers, because their Soviet-era shanty-town is located right next to the Lennart Meri airport in Tallinn, and the air above it is constantly abuzz with landing and launching airplanes.
About 40 years ago the workers of former military factory Dvigatel were given plots of land for growing vegetables. This arrangement was intended only for temporary use but also for an unspecified period. That was the beginning of a weird cabin colony, where the local people spent decades cultivating their vegetable plots and erecting new additions to already numerous hovels.
From early spring to late autumn this is a place for sweet idyllic village life, only a short distance from the bustling and noisy city – true Soviet people keep busy weeding and watering, the sounds of Garmoshka fill the air in the evenings, and children run around barefoot. Come winter, the residents of dacha-district more or less hibernate and wait again for spring.
The collapse of the Soviet empire brought about certain changes even in the life of the Soodevahe shanty town. Capitalist rule deepened social stratification. The younger generation was no longer interested in idyllic country life. The shanty town became the “property” of old-age pensioners.
Soon after the younger generation moved away, different types of residents moved in. Almost overnight the area became exposed to the poor and the homeless, classes of people who were not supposed to exist under the fertile conditions of the Soviet rule. Such people found refuge in the cabins near the airfield. However, their attitude distinguished them clearly from the permanent habitants. They would occupy an empty shack and after the place was completely ravaged or even burnt down they moved to another abandoned dacha.
Although Tallinn Airport became the new owner of the land of the former collective farm, it took years to figure out what to do about this weird urban region. The first impressions of those arriving to Estonia by plane were rather creepy and made them feel insecure.
Today the decision sealing the fate of this area has finally been made. Demolition of dachas and improvement of the aerial perspective or “visual calling card” puts an end to this stuck-in-time district raised decades ago. The spring of 2014 will be the last one for Soodevahe shanty town…
New life is a possibility only for the newer generations. Destroying allotments rearranges peoples’ lives. People can’t be forced into learning to live in a new way. Land left empty and houses falling apart reflect the feelings of Russians living in Estonia: you’re at home, yet you’re homeless, your system is not part of the general system.
My aim is to show the last phase of vanishing and disappearing community who has lost sympathy and compassion from the younger generations due to the reason that the time is just going on. With these portraits, I hope to to save the memory of these simple and common people who continued their trust in a non-existing power.
— Annika Haas
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