A different angle on old and new

A different angle on old and new

New-Zealand based photographer, Amos Chapple, wanted to get a fresh perspective on St. Petersburg. With few viewpoints from which to overlook the city, he attached his camera to a drone and set about capturing the old and the new with dramatic results.

A city of contrasts

“St. Petersburg is a city of contrasts, where starkly opposing sights sit side-by-side; the lasting remnants of its chequered history,” explains Amos.

“When I made my first, long-awaited visit in 2012 it was a real anti-climax. The grand northern city of golden spires and epic literature had seemed a worthier destination than Moscow, where I'd worked before.

Yet in reality the streets below St. Petersburg's famous historical landmarks seemed unfinished and violent, as though Tsarist and Communist Russia were still at loggerheads there for precedence.

The clashing of two opposing eras of Russia's history was mapped out physically for all to see, and it wasn't always pretty.

Returning for this project, I knew what to expect. And, this time, I wanted to illustrate that contrast of atmosphere and make a virtue of it.”

The beauty of opposing worlds

“Each style of architecture represents an utterly opposing world-view, yet they both coexist.

The combination may jar, but each has its own beauty and I wanted to do justice to both on camera.

It’s not easy to make a Soviet apartment block look beautiful, nor to make a pretty church look interesting but that was the challenge.

A few blocks from the famous “whipped-cream” palaces I found myself in some of the grittiest suburbs on earth.

Once deemed too godforsaken a place for human habitation, Peter the Great forced this city into being. Inspired by his trips into Europe, great cupolas and Greek columns rose up.

Then came the Soviets, and a revolution which dumped great grey slabs of concrete alongside the churches and palaces of old.

All this I wanted to capture, but to do so I needed distance.”

Tsar of the skies

“St. Petersburg is flat like a table, and immensely difficult to photograph as a result. No hills for lovers to climb or viewpoints overlooking the city.

The answer, for my project, was technology. With iconic monuments surrounded by open fields, St. Petersburg is probably the best place in the world to employ a drone for aerial photography.

So that was how I aimed to capture this city and its juxtapositions in all their glory. It started superbly – a sunny morning flying over the glittering Peter and Paul Cathedral, then a glowing sunset as the camera hovered above Smolny Convent.

Another rare clear day in St. Petersburg followed. I wanted darker weather for the soviet buildings to reflect their atmosphere, but I was excited about seeing the deliciously named Centre for Robotics and Technical Cybernetics so I hopped on a trolleybus and peered out the window in anticipation.

Before flying I walked around the bizarre structure, wondering what went on inside the pillar of Soviet technology. I set up the drone in a park opposite and made one flight.”

Out of control

“Not quite achieving the angle I wanted, I moved around slightly and tried again. But on its way down the drone seemed to be fighting with me; I’d draw left, it’d lag slightly then lurch further than I’d wanted it. A reliable drone gone suddenly berserk.

Then, perhaps twenty metres up I lost control altogether. Like a runaway glass on a waiter’s tray the drone started to slide away from me, accelerating as it went. By the time it hit the ground I didn’t even hear the impact.

I arrived, panting, at the crash site, to find a drone lying in pieces and a camera smashed beyond repair.


As I knelt at the sad little scene I looked through the trees at the mysterious antennae bristling from the top of the Cybernetics building – what did go on inside there?


More importantly, how was I going to realise my ambition of portraying this city in a new way?


The answer? By trying every elevator, pleading my case at every front desk and finding every vantage point.

My advantage had been taken from me. I’d been humbled and made perhaps more honest. From tsar of the skies, lording it above this city of contradictions, to a simple proletariat photographer.”

See more of Amos' images of St. Petersburg below.

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