Control Refresh
May 16, 2024

Control Refresh is the result of my research into the impact of political events on young people within a number of post-Soviet countries. Over the past three years I visited teenagers in remote cities in Russia and Eastern Europe. I made an extensive collection of photos of youngsters who shared their vulnerability with me, who joined me in their boredom and who told me about their dreams. The lives of these young people are strongly influenced by traditions, social media and politics.

I began my project by researching Generation Theory, which examines the influence of history on different generations. Generation Theory emerged in the United States in the 1990s. This theory supposes that events within American (and all of Western) history are cyclical, so that the behavioural patterns of different generations correspond to each other. In the post-Soviet countries, however, history was different, so the characteristics of generations also differ.

My interest in Generation Theory was influenced by my own family history. My parents moved from Russia to the Netherlands in 2009. I grew up in Amsterdam, but was surrounded by my family's Soviet mentality and traditions. From an early age, I started documenting the differences of these two countries with my camera to understand why I did not feel myself fully at home with either country.

I was looking for an escape on the internet and because of this, I felt myself strongly connected to Generation Z, which is what my research is about.

Generation Z is the youngest generation from the Generation Theory. This is the first generation born and raised in a digital environment. We know how to use smartphones from an early age and cannot imagine a world without the internet. It is interesting to compare Generation Z with the Silent Generation, the generation whose teenage years took place at the end of World War II. According to the theory, there are many similarities between these two generations, especially in the way they receive information: great-grandparents got their knowledge and emotions from books in childhood, Gen Z also prefers the virtual world to the real one. Of course, the medium has changed YouTube and Netflix have replaced books. But the essence is similar: replacing the lived experience with the experience of text or video writers. The reason for the loneliness of the gadget generation is the prevalence of digital communication and the underdevelopment of personal communication skills. In reality, we find it difficult to read body language, listen, and apply empathy and intuition. Therefore, fearing trouble and discomfort, many of us avoid real life and spend more and more time on social media.

In 2021, I made my first major photography trip across Russia. I contacted teenagers in small towns through social media and spent days (and sometimes weeks) with them. I documented their lives and surroundings with my camera. Took notes and wrote down their stories. My project was interrupted by the Russian invasion in Ukraine in 2022. I decided to include the change within my research and continued to visit my protagonists regularly.

Travelling and making images in a country like Russia became increasingly difficult, each time I didn't know if I would be able to return to the Netherlands again, as the country was closing itself off more and more from the rest of the world.

By the end of 2023, I had built up a collection of stories of youngsters in Eastern Europe, recording how their lives and choices are affected by political decisions in their countries. Without realising it, I created a time document of my own. In it, I record how a free country closes itself off from the world within a short time and how its inhabitants try to adapt to the changes.

When people think of the word 'war', they often think of weapons and devastation, however, war also has indirect consequences that will influence the mentality of subsequent generations in the coming decades.

The indirect effects are not always visible, but are of long-lasting influence. This was so with the Soviet Union, with a culture of fear persisting among residents of post-Soviet countries. Will this remain so with young people growing up in modern Russia?

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About Artist

Toma Gerzha (Moscow, 2003) is an Amsterdam-based documentary photographer and multimedia artist. She explores stories related to the mentality of Eastern Europe, the insider-outsider perspective and party culture as the ultimate remedy. Last year, her works were shown at the Biennale de l'Image Possible, Paris Photo, Encontros da Imagem, and at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. Her photo projects have been published in Marie Claire Belgique, Marie Claire Italia, ELLE Korea, British Journal of Photography and Paris Photo.