One Photographer Spent Five Years Capturing the Interiors of Abandoned Soviet-Era Spas

One Photographer Spent Five Years Capturing the Interiors of Abandoned Soviet-Era Spas

by DeVore Design, April 7, 2019

Tskaltubo, Georgia, was once a popular destination for tourist from Moscow looking to enjoy the town’s spas. But following the fall of the Soviet Union, the formerly grand spas were abandoned and fell into ruin. When photographer Ryan Koopmans began researching the site, he found more than the relics of the spa town—he discovered an active community. During the war in nearby Abkhazia, which began in 1992, displaced Georgians found shelter in the deserted structures, and over 25 years later, families are still living in Tskaltubo. In photographing the area, Koopmans set out to show more than just the remnants of the once opulent structures. “My aim is to portray traces of life in these ‘abandoned’ buildings—signals that subtly indicate that people still live in these crumbling structures,” he says. “For example, laundry hanging in a derelict hallway, the mud imprint of a ball against the wall, or old glass bottles and Soviet magazines on a table—signs of human presence that implies that people inhabit these architectural relics from the past.”


Koopmans frequently shoots in the former USSR and says that he has a fascination with Soviet architecture. I am drawn to...1/9 – Koopmans frequently shoots in the former USSR and says that he has a fascination with Soviet architecture. “I am drawn to locations around the world that haven’t been overly photographed, and Tskaltubo is one of these places,” he says.


The sanatoriums were built beginning in the mid1920s and reached peak popularity from the 60s to the 80s when more than...
2/9 – The sanatoriums were built beginning in the mid-1920s and reached peak popularity from the 60s to the 80s, when more than 100,000 visitors were traveling to Tskaltubo each year.

One of the most challenging parts of the project was the risk involved in entering the decaying structures. The...
3/9 – One of the most challenging parts of the project was the risk involved in entering the decaying structures. “The buildings are deteriorating and there is a danger of old floors and stairs collapsing as I explored them,” he says. “Much of the structural reinforcements have been removed and fire and water damage has threatened the building integrity of these sanatoriums.”

The spas attracted Moscows most powerful officials including Joseph Stalin who had his own personal bath house.
4/9 – The spas attracted Moscow’s most powerful officials, including Joseph Stalin, who had his own personal bath house.

He says another challenge was making sure that the project was sensitive to the people living in the area. Ultimately...
5/9 – He says another challenge was making sure that the project was sensitive to the people living in the area. “Ultimately, the hardest part when photographing Tskaltubo is to ensure that photographing these buildings is done with respect and consideration of the displaced people who are still living here after more than years of ‘temporary shelter,’” he says.

The Georgian government had planned to use the sanitoriums as temporary housing for some of the 10000 people displaced...
6/9 – The Georgian government had planned to use the sanitoriums as temporary housing for some of the 10,000 people displaced by the war. “Georgian culture is one of the most hospitable and friendly cultures that I have experienced,” Koopmans says. “The residents that I met were incredibly kind and always insisted that I join them in their homes for food and drink and to hear their stories. Through a translator, I was able to hear many stories of their lives and hardships, from the time they left war in Abkhazia through the past decades of their experiences living in these crumbling monuments of a Soviet past.”

Koopmans approached the project differently than most urban explorers would. The project is not about abandoned building...
7/9 – Koopmans approached the project differently than most urban explorers would. “The project is not about ‘abandoned building’ photography, nor is it traditional journalistic storytelling; my aim is to convey the surreal and uncanny atmosphere of this town and the historical factors that make it so,” he says. “Tskaltubo is interesting in that it feels frozen in time to the outsider, but this ‘time’ and place is hard to read because there are so many indicators working at once.”

I made several trips to shoot in Tskaltubo visiting the region six times over the last year and a half he says. I have...
8/9 – “I made several trips to shoot in Tskaltubo, visiting the region six times over the last year and a half,” he says. “I have also spent a long time researching the people, the place, and the history of the region and will continue to shoot in this fascinating area of Georgia.”

Some of the properties have been sold and may be redeveloped leaving the fate of the historic structures and their...9/9 – Some of the properties have been sold and may be redeveloped, leaving the fate of the historic structures and their inhabitants in question.


Source: Architectural Digest - Florida Real Estate Photography Blog - DeVore Design offers real estate photography, aerial photography and real estate videos from in Daytona Beach, Orlando, Lakeland and Tampa. We encourage you to share our content!