Conversion (lat. change, transformation) is a term used by Mikhail Gorbachev during the period of disarmament for the process of changing the production of military plants to civilian goods. The factories that had been producing missiles for years before now started producing pans.
Heroes of the project are people living in a military town that lost its direct purpose and stopped being the centre of nuclear potential of Russia. People living there had to urgently get by with the new challenges – acquire new civil professions. In the “Conversion” photo project Ilmar makes a research how the people living in the town adapted to the new conditions; he tries to fixate the traces of their former lives with faith for the better future.
The artist explains: “The transition moment should be documented. I was making portraits of people at their home, at work, aiming on making an imprint of the time, of everybody and everything at the moment. This is the first opportunity to make acquaintance with enclosed world of a secret town where everyone is somehow connected to nuclear weapon. Father of any child in a kindergarten is a missileman, husband of a shop assistant is a missileman, and every adult man in the city serves or used to serve as a missileman. Making photos and listening to stories of my heroes, I was shocked to notice their internal “conversion”. A person who gave years of his life to serve in army is now trying to settle himself up in usual life, but becomes trapped by the closed town.
In the series the town is representing the model of a closed military object inhabited by similar people who in this system become basic elements of the structure: military, shop assistants, fire-fighters, school students, teachers… All the portraits were made within original interiors where the heroes lived and worked.