Post-Soviet countries on the Caspian Sea face “the painful period of societal adolescence,” says Berlin-based photographer Mila Teshaieva. Twenty years after the fall of the U.S.S.R., countries in this oil-lush region continue to search for new national identities. Teshaieva’s project Promising Waters explores economic realities in three Caspian Sea states: Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. “From almost the very beginning,” she says, “this story was about the dreams and changes both originated in and stimulated by the Caspian resources.”
Teshaieva’s lens responds to the sense of uncertainty in the region, and her subjects are striking, from migrant Uzbek workers building mausoleums for the new rich in Kazakhstan to refugees living in plywood settlements in Azerbaijan. The desolation and empty landscapes in her photos point to a fragile future. “Fishermen don’t know if they will find fish. Refugees are waiting to learn if they can return to Karabakh. The luxury resort remains empty,” Teshaieva says.
The photographer recalls one moment in her travels that captured the essence of Promising Waters. While she was working in Turkmenistan, her driver could not read the road signs or directions—the alphabet was changed from Cyrillic to Latin 20 years ago, and he has yet to learn the new symbols. Instead, he has resorted to intuition to find his routes. Teshaieva’s narrative in Promising Waters is the same idea: “I want to tell about societies that have lost direction but try to find the way, despite not being able to read signs,” she says.