Soviet Bus Stops
by Christopher Herwig
By chance I discovered a phenomenon that set in motion a photographic journey that would span 12 years and 13 countries. Hunting for the most amazing road side bus shelters in the former Soviet Union would become my muse and my reason to travel.
During a cycling trip from London to St. Petersburg in the autumn of 2002 I set myself a photographic challenge to take one good photo every hour. It was on this trip that I first paid attention to the bus stops. The long hours in the saddle and slowly changing landscape along country roads in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Russia provided the setting for my discovery and the birth of my obsession. Here the designs mainly played with purely graphic shapes, each different stretch of road revealing a new set of creations to break up an otherwise bleak landscape.
Between 2003 and 2006 I lived in Kazakhstan, and I explored the five ‘Stan’ countries and former Soviet states of Central Asia: Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan. Along these silk routes I found more fascinating bus stops, often appearing in the middle of the desert, steppe or countryside, with no other sign of human settlement in sight. It was as if the earth was its pedestal and nothing else on the endless horizon could compete with the bold statement it was making.
My obsession grew and saw me hit the road further to visit five more former soviet countries: Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, and Abkhazia, and later to revisit the Baltics, travelling thousands more kilometres by bus, rental car and taxi with the specific task of hunting down the very best bus stops. I was possessed. On a mission. Nothing was going to deter me from my hunt. I searched travellers’ blogs for clues, interrogated bus and taxi drivers and even scanned over the roads on Google Earth to plan what I believed would be most effective routes. I was not disappointed as each new discovery pushed to outshine the previous.
Several of these countries have little freedom of press and expression. Tourists are rare. Visas for photographers were hard to come by. I often had to instead go into the countries on tourist visas. Despite my efforts not to arouse suspicion I was, on several occasions, accused of being a spy and only narrowly avoided getting caught up in something rather awkward. With reluctance this added to the adventure and made each new discovery even more precious. In Abkhazia my driver accused me of being a Georgian agent and photographing sensitive material. He demanded a bribe, otherwise, it would be “straight to the militizia and a firing squad”. Needless to say, he was not convinced by my story that “I have only come to your country to see your pretty bus stops”. I was happy to escape from the journey with relatively little drama, and even happier to have captured some of the most beautifully insane bus stops I had ever encountered, safe on a memory card tucked into my underpants.
This photo series is likely the largest collection of Soviet Bus Stops ever assembled. A tenuous claim to fame, I admit, and a strange obsession to have. But still, it’s one that I am proud of and I hope it will help to preserve this unique and historical art form.
NEW edition of the photo book “Soviet Bus Stops” due September 2015. email – email@example.com to get on the mailing list.
To learn more about Christopher Herwig with visit his website