Melbourne-based photographer Edward Goldner has just spent two years travelling the world. The result is his new photography exhibition All I Had I Gave.

Shooting in Russia in 2015 and Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Georgia and Detroit in the US during 2016, the exhibition is a series of black-and-white portraits. They depict the struggles of places that represent both sides of the Cold War, and the people who lived in them.

We had a chat to the photographer, whose exhibition will run from December 8–23.

Broadsheet: Explain the title, All I Had I Gave.
Edward Goldner: I came upon the title, and in a sense the concept of the series itself, when I was travelling through Russia. I was in the Arctic visiting this ghost town called Teriberka. The place was totally deserted, complete with an abandoned school straight out of Chernobyl with untouched Soviet-era books and science equipment left everywhere.

In the middle of the town, I found a house with “All I Had I Gave” written across it, which was totally bizarre since few people even speak English in Russia. I really liked the duality of the text in that it can be read as a celebration of pouring everything one has into life, or, alternatively, almost a eulogy of someone having expended everything they had to give.

I wanted to capture both strength and frailty in the portraits I was shooting, often in the same image. I felt like the text captured this idea.

BS: What attracted you to photograph these people? What do they have in common?
EG: The series was shot in the former Soviet Union (Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Georgia) and the US (Detroit). Structurally, I felt like both places could parallel and contrast one another as former Cold War powers. The other link is the idea that both these places have seen adversity, a fall from glory and in some instances, new growth.

I felt like the subjects I chose embodied this spectrum. Some of the older people I shot had this sense of exhaustion while conveying a resolve. On the other hand, especially in Detroit, I witnessed these vibrant, unapologetic subcultures thriving among an exhausted backdrop.

BS: Which country had the most profound effect on you?
EG: I’d probably have to say Russia. It was a place I’d always wanted to visit growing up. The people, culture, politics – everything – [it feels] like they’re almost on another planet.

It’s an exhausting place to travel with massive distances, communication is extremely difficult. I learned Cyrillic, which helped in getting around, but my Russian is still very limited. The people initially seemed reserved, almost unfriendly, but over time I realised they are insanely generous and sincere, just not outwardly bubbly.

The place is still a total mystery to me and I feel like I will keep chipping away at it throughout my life.

BS: How do you think the people in your images interact with the landscapes they are pictured in?
EG: Having a sense of environment is really important to me as it informs so much about the subjects. Through the landscapes in the series, I wanted to convey that duality of exhaustion and regrowth. I also liked that the environments are simultaneously ominous and beautiful.

BS: What effect do you think black-and-white film has on the images?
EG: Aesthetically, I love its emphasis on tonality. The timelessness of the format was something that also really appealed to me. The camera itself (Contax G2) was liberating in that it could take a total beating and still turn on every day.

BS: Explain the printing process of your images.
EG: Printing has been a huge part of the show. My brother (Tom Goldner) runs Fox Darkroom & Gallery in Kensington. I work as a cinematographer, mainly shooting commercials. These tend to be very manicured and run through a lot of colour correction, post etc.

I wanted the images to be warts-and-all with a real authenticity that would have been obscured by overworking them. Tom did an amazing job with the prints and he actually had to custom-build equipment to handle the mural size that we did. It was exhausting and quite expensive to do it this way, but I’m really glad we did.

Edward Goldner’s All I Had I Gave exhibition runs from December 8–23 at The Fox Gallery, 8 Elizabeth Street, Kensington. Open Thursdays and Fridays from 11am–6pm, and weekends from 11am–5pm.