2016 - 2018

Photograph taken by a car garage, transformed into a "pinhole" camera, Zmeinka area, Vladivostok.

Print from the original paper negative of 250x190 cm in scale 1:1, wooden bench, containing documentation of the project.

The project was accomplished during the residency at ZARYA center for contemporary art, Vladivostok, Russia. 

From September 2015 to November 2016 I travelled three times to Vladivostok, participating in the residency program of the contemporary art center ZARYA. During these trips and the meanwhiles, I have conceived a project, that I named “San Francisco”.


In the course of my research I noticed a remarkable connection between the two cities. This project aims to develop this connection, and to reveal geographical, semantic and metaphorical mirroring that appears between them as the two face each other across the ocean.

​In 1959 Nikita Khrushchev, First Secretary of the Communist Party, made an official visit to the United States for the first time. The visit lasted from the 15th to the 27th of September. One year later a 700 pages book was published about his trip - "Face to Face with America." During this period Khrushchev visited San Francisco and was very impressed with the city:

On the left we see a wide panorama of the city. Further, on the other side of the hills, the endless blue desert of the Pacific Ocean expands. San Francisco is situated on the mountainous promontory that separates the lagoon from the ocean. Nikita Sergeyevitch stares into the view, where one can see the contours of a gigantic bridge thrown across the Golden Gate.


Seeing Khrushchev, people lost their calm and jumped out from their tables, started applauding and friendly gathered around their guest. Together with them, Nikita Sergeyevitch was admiring the view of the city for several minutes, going from one glass wall to another. "America is a nice country, and San Francisco is the best American city", - as he said goodbye to the Americans, and again everyone warmly applauded.


Face to face with America, title page of the book.

On his way back to the USSR Khrushchev landed in Vladivostok.

There are testimonies, which say that during his speech on the 6th of October, Khrushchev announced that Vladivostok was about to become the second San Francisco. According to another version, in the spirit of competition with the United States, he called on residents of Vladivostok «to make the city even better». This ambitious statement seemed even more improbable in the context of the late '50s, when Vladivostok was a remote place, a closed naval base, forbidden to visit for foreigners, and notorious in the recent past as one of the transit camps of DalLag (Far East Penitentiary Labor Camp).

Vladivostok in the middle of the 1950s, photographed by Semyon Fridlyand.

In the ‘60s building in Vladivostok started massively.

I must say that the two cities truly have many similarities - hilly terrain, proximity to the ocean, port infrastructure, the Golden Gate on one side, the Golden Horn - on the other. The name "San Francisco" sounded in Vladivostok at the time like a promise of a better future, an image of an ideal city, distant, abstract, but beautiful.

Thoughts of the citizens of Vladivostok rushed overseas.

However this rise did not last long. Pretty soon fantasies about the dream-city stumbled over the project put into practice. Vladivostok has gradually overgrown with standard panel houses, the universal draft of a soviet town merged into its landscape, quite inconvenient for this type of architecture, and produced a chaotic ensemble. It is noteworthy that the residential buildings developed mainly in low-lying areas. While the tops of the hills, more complex to develop, were abandoned to arbitrary tinkering and occupied by warehouses, landfills, sheds and parking garages. The paradox lies in the fact that these spots offer the best view.

Since then, the residents of Vladivostok have developed a local custom of pastime - climbing to the highest points of the city and admiring the landscape for hours.

Two types of reality co-exist and contradict each other at the same time within the city. Landscapes that deny each other. One is about the “beyondness”. About wide, boundless views of the sea, the horizon, the ships and the distant shores. The other is about landscape under one's feet, the disgraceful routine - the oblique, the awry, crippled by random, bungled urban development. Hills whose slopes are cut up by rocky roads, covered with ranges of multi-coloured garages resembling favelas of Caracas.

The paradox and the singularity of this place are due to its inherent contrast – of the proximate and the distant. At the same time the contraries are inseparably linked with to each other. The nearest landscape creates and maintains the longing for the most distant one, inducing a particular type of viewer – the escapist, whose eyes rushes away.

Meanwhile, this contemplation pushed to its limits, brings us again, geographically, to San Francisco.

My research have focused on the problem - how to realize this polarity. How to connect the far and the near. How to reveal this particular context. Then I thought that the main spectator, the constant one, tied to the view, remains the car garage. Thus I decided to implement this idea physically - turn the garage into a device, an apparatus that produces and fixes the image.

The urban area that I chose for this task is called Zmeinka. The slope that descends to the bay offers one of the best and most wanted postcard views of Vladivostok – the view on the Russky Bridge (rus: Russian Bridge) – this slope is covered with a cascade of concrete garages. My idea was to connect the view and it's opposite side by producing one through the other.

So I turned one of the garages into a camera obscura. By fixing photosensitive paper on the rear wall, I obtained a photo camera of the simplest design - a garage fully darkened from the inside + a hole of 3mm of diameter in the front wall. The principle of contemplation here became exposure.

In two days, or 15 hours of exposure, the view of Russky Bridge over the bay imprinted on the back wall of the garage. I got a negative of the size of the garage doorframe: 190x250 cm.

On top of my research added another circumstance. All the time while I was working on the conversion of the garage into a camera to capture the view of the Russky Bridge, my friend from Moscow, the artist Alexey Buldakov, stayed in residency in San Francisco. Once he published a photograph on his Facebook page – a view of the Bay Bridge (year of construction 1937), strikingly reminiscent of the view of the Russky Bridge (year of construction 2012) that I had in front of me in Vladivostok. This image became the last element of the chain – views of the two cities situated on opposite sides of the ocean came together, as if reflected in each other.

Since Khrushchev’s visit in 1959 the image of San Francisco in Vladivostok has frayed, was almost forgotten. Nevertheless, it reappeared within the landscape half a century later.

In 2012 the bridges transformed the city (two bridges were built - Russky and the Golden Bridge), they gave it the desired image, a dominant structure, as the cathedral has historically been to a European city. The bridge connected the city with the landscape and became immediately its main symbol.

Just as it happened in San Francisco before.

The documentary part is displayed inside a drawer built into a wooden bench. This bench faces the photograph and invites visitors to contemplate the landscape, revealing at the same time the logical path of the project.

© Elizaveta Konovalova 2020