Image: Denis Tarasov
Image: Denis Tarasov
In 1997 the power of the Russian mafia was so great that Louis Freeh, the FBI’s then-director, cited it as a very real threat to U.S. national security. Indeed, Russian organized crime was so dominant at that time that in 1996 there were an estimated 8,000 mafia factions in the trans-continental country, with around half of all businesses said to be under their command.
Furthermore, their companies’ resultant income streams were so great that the illegal groups reportedly moved around $25 billion of laundered wealth around the globe. It seems only fitting, then, that people who lived their lives so far outside the social norm, and who made so much money, should continue to confound expectations in death by having the flashiest tombstones that roubles can buy.
Naturally, the attention-grabbing gravestones do not come cheap, and perhaps this is part of their appeal for rich mobsters and their families. In fact, the largest and most extravagant are priced as high as $250,000.
In fact, it was the possessions showcased on these tombstones that initially enticed Yekaterinburg-based photographer Denis Tarasov to capture them in these shots.
It was for this reason that Tarasov called his shots of the gravestones the “Essence Series.” The resulting images were displayed at London’s Saatchi Gallery between November 2013 and March 2014.
Tarasov, moreover, didn’t just venture to one graveyard for his project but, instead, to a number of cemeteries across Russia. In fact, the series was shot over a period of weeks.
And the task could have taken Tarasov a whole lot longer; as the photographer told the web-based Photographic Museum of Humanity, there are “innumerable” such monuments in Russia and Ukraine.
It’s pretty remarkable, then, that the gravestones’ styles are so similar. Yekaterinburg and Dnepropetrovsk, for instance, are more than 1,400 miles from each other, yet the tombstones captured here from the different locations look almost identical.
Indeed, it seems that Russian mafia members like sharp suits, nice cars and a stiff drink no matter what their location. But for Tarasov it wasn’t the similarities among the gravestones that intrigued him; it was their subtle differences.
It’s worth noting, however, that not everyone in possession of a detailed headstone like the ones Tarasov has photographed was a gangster. No, some are known to belong just to families rich and theatrical enough to warrant the lavish tombstone treatment.
However, whether the deceased had criminal backgrounds or not, the graves undoubtedly represent “people with stories behind them,” as Tarasov told The Calvert Journal in 2013.
And it should be said that this isn’t the first time Tarasov has attracted attention after bringing such stories into the public domain. One of the photographer’s previous exhibitions, entitled “The Cossack Watch,” was even banned by the Russian government after it was deemed amoral.
The controversial Cossacks collection was, however, far from the only work that Tarasov has put on show. In fact, the photographer has participated in group exhibitions since 2007 and exhibited his shots in solo displays from 2008 onward.
It’s safe to say, though, that Tarasov’s tombstones images are among the most striking examples of his work to date. Furthermore, they depict monuments that, as the photographer told the Photographic Museum of Humanity, “can be considered one of the symbols of modern Russia” – even if they are somewhat on the tasteless side.