Hanne Van Assche

My name is Hanne Van Assche, I was born in 1995 in Belgium. Recently I graduated as a master in photography at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Ghent (KASK). I obtained my bachelor's degree from photography at Narafi, Luca School of Arts in Brussels.
My work focuses mainly on social topics, with a documentary approach. Latest project "Udachny" ("Lucky") is about a small mining town in Russia. The company that runs this mine also exports these diamonds to Antwerp, Belgium. I was so fascinated by this fact and wanted to show the residents and their surroundings.

In the beginning I was a bit scared to go all the way to the north on my own. But when I arrived, I saw that people in the north are the warmest people! I really enjoyed photographing Udachny's inhabitants. I wanted to get to know everyone and that's why I went to the highschool to ask if maybe I could give a photography workshops there. Instead I joined different english classes and the children/teenagers asked me how life in Europe is in general. We could learn from each other because I asked them the same questions about Russia. It was a great experience as a photographer and person in general!
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In the beginning of the project I was a bit scared to go all the way to the north on my own. But when I arrived, I saw that people in the north are the warmest people!
In the far East of Russia lies a small mining town called Udachny ("Lucky"). It is located in Yakutia, a remote region captured in the icy grip of winter most of the year. A frozen world of dense taiga and immense tundra zones and hardy pine trees. Few people choose to live here, but those who do are proud citizens. Yakutia is known as the treasury of Russia. It is one of the world's richest regions in natural resources. According to Siberian legend, God once spilled a bag of earthly treasures over this part of the country. A thick layer of permafrost covers large reserves of coal, gas, gold and – diamonds.

The first rough diamond in Yakutia was discovered in 1949, transforming the Soviet Union into an important diamond producing country. Geologists scoured the vast territory, in search of this precious mineral.
In 1955 they stumbled upon an exceptionally large diamond deposit. Its discovery was a stroke of Luck!
Since then, Udachny has transformed into one of the largest open-pit mines, reaching a depth of 640m. Mining is overseen by the Russian company Alrosa. Back then, workers travelled from every corner of the Soviet-Union and established a small settlement near the mine. This was the foundation of the town Udachny, and it continues to exist up to the present day.
The hospitality and optismism of the inhabitants soothes the harsh climate. It is them who turn the scenery of a frozen and isolated world, defined by extraordinary contrasts, into a vibrant and colorful community.
Today, the 12,000 inhabitants of this town are still connected via the mine. Alrosa expects Udachny's production to last for at least another 25 years and continues to facilitate the lives of its workers.

Even though a steady job seems to be the only motivation to live in this monotown, residents find more reasons to stay, often related to the strong connection they experience with nature and their fellow citizens. Isolated from the rest of Russia, Удачный truly feels like a world on its own.
Hanne Van Assche created a book of the project "Lucky" that will be published in 2022 by Stockmans Art Books. She is doing a presale through crowdfunding where it can be bought.
Text Anna Laza
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