Soviet Photography

1999 > Russia

As you can tell from my website, bring your camera!

The Kodak Revolution happened in Russia sometime about 1992. That means that
there is a Kodak sign every block in Moscow, indicating a store that will
sell you color film and develop your photos. This is an amazing feat.
Before 1992, the only film in Russia was hand made black & white
or smuggled in from the West. My old landlord had a few photo albums,
and by the look of the prints, he developed them himself.

that there is a seller and a developer on every block, don’t think its gonna
work like the West or anything. Buying the film is normal, with a choice
between Kodak and Fuji, (but who would every buy Fuji?!), but it is in developing
where the experience differs.

My local expert.

The negatives are usually uncut, and even more rarely, in plastic sleeves.
Frustrating, but survivable. The prints are decent, but nothing
like a good developer in the States. I used to be one, so I feel qualified
to say so. Usually several negatives are not printed. Since one
is usually the best photo of the roll, either the developer liked that print
and kept it, or the FSB (today’s KGB) liked the print. Maybe, after
messing it up, the developer threw the first print away but didn’t make a
new one. It is the most frustrating aspect of photography here!

Tuesday, July 27, 1999, Moscow Times

Strike a Pose, or Pay Later

By Daisy Sindelar

This spring, my family suffered a collective clan trauma following the wedding
of one of its members. The marriage itself was a joyous occasion; the trouble
began a week or so later, when the pictures came back from the photo lab
and began their rounds of interstate circulation. They were extremely painful.
My family, a relatively normal-looking group of folk that should be capable
of standing neatly in a row and smiling at the camera, was instead captured
blinking, chewing, yawning, pontificating without an audience, complaining,
and scratching. Stomachs distended, arms a-waggle, yanking up pantyhose and
storming the champagne table, we looked as though we had just been released
from an island of lost civilization, draped in party clothes and sent back
to the mainland for a period of intense re-socialization.

Those few people who managed to pull themselves into an upright position
and smile becomingly were invariably looking in the wrong direction. And
this was before the dancing even started Afterward, my mother took one look
at the photos, holding them at arm’s length for safety, and promptly buried
them in a drawer. Yet another family event down the aesthetic tubes.

I couldn’t help but think: this never would have happened if we had been
a Russian family, Russians know how to pose for a photograph. And the long,
hot summer has driven this salient point home yet again. There’s not a monument
in the, city not surrounded by Russians carefully getting their pictures
taken for proud posterity. Shoulders back, chin high, right heel lodged at
left instep with a graceful bend in the knee – this is the making of a good

I know how to goof!More often than not, extra flourishes are added
– for women, its hands on hips (or, la piece de resistance, behind the head),
hair swung over inclined -shoulder, various body parts draped seductively
over a crumbling urn. Among the men, the classic muscle-flex posture seems
to be maintaining a steady popularity, as does the, thoughtful crouch, alert
and reassuring, as though they were Lawrence of Arabia surveying a map in
the desert. Even Russian children know how to hold their own next to a statue
five times their size. Most impressive of all, there is an instinctual group
dynamic that provides for people to be photographed as successfully en masse
as they are individually. Each Russian appears to have a bit of the choreographer
in his or her soul.

I used to think all this posing was a little goofy, but after this latest
wedding photo debacle, I realize I’m in no position to judge. Every North
American has a drawer full of buried pictures- we are notorious, for taking
had photographs.

Despite our lousy international reputation, I would argue that Americans
are, often more shy and self-conscious than our puffed-up image, suggests,
a fact reflected in our repeated feckless attempts to capture ourselves on
film’ We are hopeful, as many people are, of looking attractive but are often
embarrassed by the effort it necessarily requires. The extra I0 seconds it
takes to properly arrange yourself for a memorable picture may cause an outside
observer to think derisively: That person is posing for a photograph. Then
you think: that person is thinking with derision that I am posing for a
photograph. You get shiftyeyed and nervous, and your chance at getting a
good picture is doomed forever.

For an American, the striking of a pose (save a silly and self-effacing one)
can be unbearable. For a Russian, it isn’t even a consideration. Posing for
photographs is considered natural, normal, and duly respectful of the price
of film. It is also an extension of the inherent confidence that is a marked
characteristic among Russians, who despite occasional poetic professions
of self-loathing are remarkably unselfconscious.

smile and keep your chin upAs a rule, they are not put off by public speaking
or spontaneous social gatherings; their personal habits are amazingly free
of nail-biting, nose-rubbing and other nervous ticks. They sit calmly for
street portraits and receive compliments with grace. They are wonderful singers
and joke-tellers; their toasts are mini-masterpieces. Their children are
like one-man band, with poetry recitations, folk dancing, and astonishingly
accurate watercolor landscapes produced on the hour. Accepting the premise
that life is a stage, one might believe that some countries simply produce
better performers. Or at least better photographs.

Still, we Americans should try harder. At the next family wedding, I am going
to suggest that we all drape ourselves over urns, or at least extract a promise
from the photographer that he’ll have us all looking more or less in the
same direction before he snaps the shot. Maybe it he stands between us and
the champagne table he’ll stand a chance.