By Jack Williams
These beautiful abstract shots may look like far-off planets, but they are actually spyholes from locations dotted across Europe – many linked to the likes of the KGB.
Named SURVEILLANCE, the project features ominous peepholes from the likes of a KGB headquarters in Vilnius, Lithuania, to prisons and locations linked to the Stasi, the East German secret police.
Shot against a blacked-out backdrop, the images look like they would be right at home in a modern art gallery – but putting a finger on their actual sinister use may take some guessing.
This was the intention of photographer Valentyn Odnoviun, 31, who travelled to prisons in the likes of Latvia, Ukraine, Estonia, Germany and Poland in order to build out this unique series.
In total, Valentyn said he snapped more than 90 spy holes across different prisons.
The photographer, who currently lives in Vilnius, Lithuania, but is from Khrakiv, Ukraine, said: “I decided to work with objects that look insignificant at first, but which can preserve traces of events and can reveal more information when you focus on them and when you link them with their natural context.
“I found the spyhole to be a very informative object – a lens through which the warden looked at the imprisoned people inside, a tool which obscured the prisoner’s personality while making him an object of surveillance.
“It was a reminder of the everyday life of the people that were on both sides of it.”
Valentyn came up with idea for the series in 2016, but he did not complete it until last year.
The first spy holes Valentyn noticed were in the KGB’s former headquarters in Vilnius, Lithuania, which featured 19 cells and a torture room.
It’s estimated that more than 1,000 people died at this location between 1944 and the early 1960s.
Through the images, the photographer was looking to depict something that was not only a documentation of something that is simply seen through these holes, but also a subject matter that is subjective, he said.
In order to capture the images, Valentyn would mount his camera on a tripod a few centimeters from the cell door, he would then shoot on 15- to 30-second exposures using a macro lens.
Valentyn said: “A spy hole is a very informative object, a lens through which the warden looked at people inside of the prison cell or walking yard.
“It is one of the visual communicative channels which obscured the personality of a prisoner into an object of surveillance.
“Reminding of the everyday life of people that were on both sides of it, all of whom were prisoners of the system in their own ways.
“If you look at the images from the historical point of view, it’s natural to think about what’s happening nowadays and how these images can be a commentary on what can happen in the future.
“I think our society is even more under surveillance than before, but the surveillance methods have changed and taken a different form, so we don’t need to be in a prison to be totally observed today.”