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.
In the 1960s, the workers of military factory Dvigatel were given free patches of land for unlimited period at Suur-Sõjamäe, in the outskirts of Tallinn – let them people toil and grow their cabbages and carrots. That was the beginning of the dacha culture in the surroundings of the local airport, despite the quagmire soil of the village Soodevahe. Looking back to it wraps you in a nostalgic mist, where sweet sounds of garmoshka fill the air above the shantytown and children run barefoot amidst the onion-beds. However, nostalgia is neither the concept nor purpose of the Plane Watchers,.
As for the concept, I aimed at drawing attention to the contradictions arising from political changes within a single commune, i.e. what happens when time runs out and it meets its end. Visually joyous and colourful façade conceals both the bitterness of the dacha-keepers, but also their silent acceptance of the inevitable. Local population has grown old and feeble, young people have no interest in tending the veggie patches and the homeless moving in the dacha district at the dawn of new age do not care about the beauty of the gardens. This has brought about the desolation of former idyll. The last person holding on to the veggie-plot culture keeps bustling about in the garden, but is closer to giving up than before.
Bulldozer has been rustling at Suur-Sõjamäe already since 2011, justifying its presence at Soodevahe, which looks more and more like a junkyard. But the stories and fates of people who have toiled here are still worth exploring, and that is why I considered it necessary to document the plane watchers as a unique cultural phenomenon, before it is buried under concrete.
Annika Haas is an Estonian artists and a documentary photographer who is attracted by marginal social groups or subcultures, depicting them in her intriguing photography series. She has studied in University of Tartu and graduated with a degree in Finno-Ugric languages (1992-2000). She took courses in professional photography and documentary photography in London in 2003 and 2012. Annika is the portrait and documentary photography editor at Estonian photo magazine Positiiv (2015 -). Annika’s work has been exhibited and recognized in Estonia and abroad, she is a winner and finalist of several international photo competitions. In 2014 she was awarded at the Grand Prize in Estonian Press Photo competition and was winner of the Feature Photo Prize of the same competition in 2010 and 2017.