There are in-between places where different realities meet. The roadhouse, as phenomenon, combines the indifference and infinity of the road with materiality and warmth of home. Settlement Umyot in Mordovia, Russia with nearly a hundred roadside diners is a unique place where it becomes apparent.
Photography allows seeing things that are impossible to notice from the window of a passing car. To see more, you must stop – and here the frame of the photograph forces you to. Following the photographer, we look at each building as if at a face: attentively and from a safe distance.
All buildings have the same range of details – here is a sign with a name, an outdoor dining area, and there is a grill creating the smoke that is carried by the wind from one photograph to another, – but all of them look differently. It feels that these differences reveal a desire to hold on to the roadside, to stay, to live. Sometimes they succeed: we see a massive brick building with a “Homemade Food” sign, but after turning the page, we look through it: there is only a carcass on the photograph. Either a competitor puts up a similar building close by, or, photograph by photograph, we make it to the future, where there is decay and oblivion, where all buildings crumble after a while and get taken up by the forest. And there is no trail leading there. A good metaphor of life.
It seems that these buildings emerge routinely, too. After they first appeared in the 1990s, many roadhouses survived the change of owners and dozens of crises, and those that did not were immediately replaced with the new ones. In the best years of Umyot – the middle of the 2000s – there were almost 500 roadhouses here. For the settlement residents where the only factory closed, the diners were the way to feed their families without leaving for big cities. These days the revenues have declined and the rumor has been circulating among the owners that all the roadhouses will be demolished or enclosed with boards prior to the 2018 FIFA World Cup so they wouldn’t spoil the view, as some of the matches will be played not far away. If it happens, the place that embodies the whole history of post-Soviet small business will disappear. The impending doom is felt even now.
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