poemless. a slap in the face of public taste.

August 25, 2010

In Photos

Filed under: Culture: Russia — poemless @ 5:31 PM
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I. “Russia in color, a century ago.”

Perhaps you have all seen these by now, but they never get old. Seriously. It is creepy how not old at all they appear. Incredible. For those who have not seen them, they are from a Library of Congress’ collection of color photographs taken between 1909 and 1912 by Prokudin-Gorskii, who was doing a photographic survey of the Russian Empire for Tsar Nicholas II. Why does LC have these? They bought them up at some point. I am of the opinion that Russia should buy them back. And no – they are not photoshopped. Well, maybe he used the 1909 equivalent to photoshopping.

Self-portrait on the Karolitskhali River, ca. 1910.

(photo: Prokudin-Gorskii)

General view of the Nikolaevskii Cathedral from southwest in Mozhaisk in 1911.

(photo: Prokudin-Gorskii)

See more photos by Prokudin-Gorskii.

Learn more about the Library of Congress Prokudin-Gorskii collection.

II. “Six endangered sites in Russia that will soon disappear.”

For a variety of reasons (longterm neglect, lack of funds, general disinterest) there are lots of endangered places in Russia. Forbes points us to 6 worth checking out before they bite the dust. I should like to add that while post-Communist apathy and over-development are usually blamed, bulldozing or abandoning one’s past is hardly a new phenomenon, in Russia or elsewhere. But why does it seem more brutal when Russia does it? In America it feels unfair that these things happen, yes, but also part of life, the collateral damage of an ongoing, uninterrupted march into the future. And something always seems to organically spring up in place of the past, as if this cycle of architectural death and rebirth were completely natural. But Russia neither excels at smooth transition nor pretends replacements are functional improvements as much as they are ownership stamps (be the owner a person or idea or bank.) The effect is an exquisite corpse of architectural history rather than a linear narrative. The breaks are cleaner and so must have been made by someone more coldblooded.

Anyway, I’d like to say this one I have actually seen. But I can’t be sure. There are so many of these cathedrals, and they all look alike. And all the little old women will tell you that Ivan the terrible had them built and Andreu Rublev painted the icons inside.

The Andrei Rublev frescoes in Vladimir and Zvenigorod.

(photo: Itar TASS)

Wikipedia tells me the Vladimir church is on the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites. Isn’t that supposed to protect it? Is Forbes maybe being a bit hysterical?

And check out the building shaped like a hammer and sickle!

A kitchen factory in Samara.

See the other sites.

III. “Soviet photography of the 60s and 70s.”

The Lumiere Brothers Center for Photography in Moscow (I thought they were French…?) has been holding a very popular exhibition of Soviet photography from the 1960’s and 70’s. I love this kind of thing. Everyone associates Soviet visual arts with Socialist Realism and tends to forget that the Soviet Union persisted for almost 40 years after Stalin’s death. The exhibition celebrates the more personal, honest, whimsical and less formulaic aesthetics of the Thaw years and even after. It’s charming, if you ask me.

Well, these are not the types of scenes of Communist Russia that were pounded into my little American head while I was growing up. In the same fashion, you probably won’t see any normal, adjusted American families on RT anytime soon either. For two countries who have quite enough problems of our own, we certainly devote a lot of time to pointing out the other’s…

See other photos from the exhibition.

And more from their Moscow Metro exhibit. Art in the Subway again!

IV. “Moscow and Leningrad in 1990.”

I don’t remember where I first saw this, but whoever posted it reminded everyone that in 1990 Russia was still Soviet. I was reminded of waking up on the morning of January 1, 2000 and looking out the window. Everything was the same as it was when I’d woken up on the morning of December 31, 1999. No flying cars. Those buildings that had been built in 1872 and 1972 were still there, had still be in built in 1872 and 1972. How strange it felt. … I was never in the Soviet Union. But I was in what was the Soviet Union in 1995, and if you think Muscovites woke up on December 22, 1991 and looked out the window and found the world looked radically different than it did the previous day, when they’d been citizens of the USSR, well, … well actually I have no idea how it looked to them. You’d have to ask them.

But this is pretty much exactly what Russia looked like to me in 1995:

(photo: Ben Gustafson)


(photo: Ben Gustafson)

Kiosks, kiosks everything in kiosks. People wearing bad, ugly clothes. Tacky advertisements in public areas featuring naked ladies. Lines for crap. Grey skies. Everything falling apart and dirty. Everyone looking vaguely cold and depressed and exhausted and resigned. Poor lighting. (I recently installed those CFL lights in my apartment which prompted my stepfather to remark, “Oh great! Going for that depressing Soviet apartment look, are you?”)

Of course it was not all grime and kiosks and bad clothing and an air of disappointment. Petersburg got hip to shiny happy capitalistic optimism before Moscow -or the world outside its luxury hotel lobbies- caught on. (Likewise, in the provinces so much Soviet imagery persisted that one wondered if they’d heard the news yet, and realized they probably just did not have the money for new non-Commie signage.) But vasts swaths of it were. I miss it. I know. It’s a little evil of me.

See more photos of 1990 Moscow and Leningrad at Tema’s blog.

And the photographer’s Picasa page.

V. “The Unusual Metro Systems of the Soviet Union.”

Treehuger.com brings us a slideshow of the many subway systems throughout the (former) Soviet Union. Vova may want to wax poetic on what was responsible for the global warming that killed the mammoths, but one must admit that there is something remarkably environmentally responsible in the zeal for efficient public transit that accompanied the Soviet command economy. Granted, an ability to get people to work en masse on time at their filthy factory jobs and a potential use as bunkers to protect leaders from bombs, radiation, chemical warfare etc. were significant selling points. And more and more people are driving automobiles around this part of the world now. Nevertheless, it stings that Stalin, who almost single-handedly destroyed the Russian ecosystem, excelled where hippies with bikes and souls have failed. Maybe more Americans would take the train if the stations were built of marble, decorated with chandeliers and housed art exhibits? Well, maybe more Americans would take the train if there were any train to take at all…

Metro station in Moscow.

(photo: Nir Nussbaum, c.TreeHugger.com.)

Metro station in Tashkent.

(photo: Nir Nussbaum, c.TreeHugger.com.)

Tashkent. Tash-FREAKING-kent, people!

For comparison’s sake, here is a station in Chicago:

Again: Tashkent. Chicago.

Stupid idiot moron American design is not even brilliant enough to keep out the rain and snow (does it even rain or snow in Tashkent? Isn’t Tashkent in the desert?) let alone the fallout after nuclear holocaust. Is not even brilliant enough to be called design! Those terrible Soviet kiosks are more functional and attractive! Good thing Americans all have cars and will never be bombed, I tell ya. I need a cigarette. I’ll be right back.

See many more strange, beautiful (and functional) subways of the Soviet Union.

Bonus: “Putin takes care of bears, says they should be afraid of people.”

Ok, kids, it would not be a proper photo blog, at least not at this url, without a requisite pin-up of my favorite Premier. Whatever the hell a Premier is. Lucky for us, he’s just done another photo-op. Where does he find the time to rule a sizable chunk of the world and keep a shooting schedule that would make Gisele B√ľndchen dizzy? I do not know… I think he’s tapped into some science we yahoos are yet unaware of. Or has been cloned. Don’t tell me Dima’s doing all the work. Pshaw! Dima’s sipping tea with rock stars and changing names of things while our Premier is putting out fires and saving endangered species. Which begs the question: Who is actually … governing?

But why think about that when you can look at this!

That blurry dark spot in the back is ostensibly a bear. Raawwrr.

(photo: Alexei Druzhinin. c.RIA Novosti.)

Has he even done a brown bear photo op before? What took so long?! If Putin wanted to scare the pants of of everything west of Minsk, this should have been first on his agenda. The Russian bear is to the neocon’s imagination as clowns are to a child’s. Of course, there remains the possibility that he isn’t interested in scaring us. Just saving animals. He doesn’t look like he is trying to frighten us. He looks like a kid at the zoo. Where’s his ice cream? You know – it would all be rather embarrassing if everyone at the Economist, BBC and Washington Post were running about wetting themselves about Russia when Putin wasn’t even trying to freak them out in the first place. Not that they shy from embarrassing themselves…

Alright, fair readers, that’s all for today. Hope you enjoyed the show!

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