A far cry from the dingy, rat-infested subway stations of New York City, the ornate stations along the Moscow Metro look more like the inside of opera houses or museums than train stops. Designed during the 1930s by some of Russia’s most famous architects, the the Moscow-St. to Petersburg Metro was one of the USSR’s most extravagant projects. Millions were spent on the construction of the stations, which Stalin called “palaces of the people,” and were meant to double as bomb shelters at the time.
Today, thousands of people pass through the Metro stations daily, but they’re rarely seen or talked about outside of Russia. “I came across them by accident on a few blogs,” says photographer David Burdeny, whose photo series A Bright Future–New Works from Russia documents 30 of the 200 metro stations along the subway line. “They’re really unique in the world, there’s really no advertising them, these beautiful stations aren’t well-known to the rest of the world.”
Since the stations are technically owned by the military, gaining access to photograph them was no easy task. Burdeny, who has a masters in Architecture and whose girlfriend is Russian, had been trying for years to get through the bureaucratic red tape when he came across a feature on the Moscow Metro on a British television show called Top Gear. With the help of the producers, Burdeny eventually got a permit and was allowed to spend two weeks shooting, renting each station by the hour.
The amazing thing about the stations, says Burdeny, is that each one has a different architecture. “The first ones were, not constructivist necessarily, but almost religious, and then they turn into art deco later on,” says Burdeny. “There’s something uniquely, visually Russian about them.”
In the exhibition, Burdeny juxtaposes images of the Metro stations with his own photographs of Russian theaters and palaces, since they were meant to be almost an extension of this type of architecture under Stalin’s orders.
When the stations were initially constructed, as many as 750,000 workers took part in the large-scale project, which was deployed under the Soviet slogan “the whole country is building the Metro.” Per Stalin’s directives, the concept of “svet,” or light, was used as a metaphor for enlightenment and represented “sveltloe budushchee,” or a bright future, to the masses.
As gorgeous as his photos are, Burdeny says that to really experience the magnitude of the stations you have to visit them yourself. “A lot of them don’t photograph as well as they look in real life. When you go into them the scale is sort of hard to pick up on, so they’re really great to experience first hand,” he says. “It’s amazing, they’re these very ornate, luxurious spaces that are civic properties.”
A Bright Future–New Works from Russia is on view at the Jennifer Kostuik Gallery in Vancouver, Canada through November 8.