Volodymyr Kovalchuk of Lutsk, Ukraine, and my friend of 20 years, died on May 1, 2017.
He died of stomach cancer. “Volodymyr thought you were a very noble person,” my friend wrote me. “I saw him about 6 months ago. We stood outside my apartment and reminisced about those years when the Fitzmahan’s lived in our town. We talked about how much we looked forward to working together to help with your next book.”
Many of my friends from Ukraine are suffering. Jobs have dried up. Pensions are not sufficient to pay for retirement. Many have left and moved to other parts of Europe.
Those who can not leave, stay behind dreading the Russian invasion and fear for their survival.
This photo was taken inside a large abandoned movie theater in Old Town, Tallinn, Estonia.
After the Soviet Union collapsed, the movie theaters closed down. The Communist Party used movies as an effective tool to educate, entertain, and to inculcate Party values in its youth. Soviet movies were the best entertainment in town.
The communist occupiers were thrown out of Estonia in 1991. Democracy and capitalism were adopted, and the aging old movie houses were replaced by ungainly concrete movie complexes. Going to the movies in Tallinn today is like stepping into an AMC movie complex in Walnut Creek, California. Popcorn, Coke, M & Ms, jelly beans, and Brad Pitt.
In 2008, when I was teaching photography in Tallinn, Saskia, one of my students, cajoled her father to allow me to take photos of the abandoned movie theater he owned in Old Town. Saskia’s father was one of the deeply wealthy nouveau riche in Tallinn.
How Saskia’s father, a Russian-Estonian, moved up from being a common worker of the communist Soviet Union, to a multimillionaire is part of a murky tale of acquisition of wealth in the early years of independence.
The Russians of Estonia, unlike Putin’s oligarch friends, did not walk away with political power in Estonia, the smallest of the Soviet republics. But, great wealth during privatization of property was grabbed by a few.
Photography has the ability to influence world politics and public opinion. I took the photo above three weeks ago, the day after the Trump inauguration. I marched with my husband, my two daughters, and their families and friends down the streets of Oakland to not only say we support women’s rights, but to advise the Trump administration and the Republican Congress that, “We will not go quietly into the night,” to paraphrase Dylan Thomas.
I sit here feeling sorry for myself. For my children. And, yes, and for the rest of the country. In the shadow of the 2016 presidential campaign and election, I grieve for the losses in my country. I weep. I mourn.
I have two deep passions. Black and white photography, and kanji, the system of Japanese writing. The allure of these two systems comes from my attraction to Japanese aesthetics: simplicity, suggestion, irregularity, quiet refinement.
There are different kinds of crowds.There is the Sunday-go-for-a-walk crowd.There is the tourists-watching-the-street-performer crowd.There is the parade-watching crowd.There is the March for Women crowd.There is the protest crowd.There is the riot crowd.
For a street photographer, a crowd is a gift. No one pays much attention to the photographer and there are plenty of opportunities to get interesting candid pictures of people.
Nora puts herself in her art. Pointing to her sketch of a pregnant woman sitting on a turtle, she said, “See here. It’s my nose. I can’t paint without putting it in.” I bought this sketch, The Spanish Lady, from Nora in 1998. For a $100. I smuggled the piece out of Ukraine, rolled up in my guitar case.
“A man came to the KGB office. He looked frightened. ‘My talking parrot has disappeared.’ The agent was confused. ‘That’s not the kind of case we handle here. Why don’t you go to the police?’ The man frowned, ‘I know that, but I am here to tell you officially that I disagree with the parrot.’” Viktor, dean of the law school, was a man who liked a joke. I once read that every nation likes political jokes, but to the people of the Soviet Union, jokes were a national sport.
On my first day at the university, Viktor took my hand and smiled, “I am happy you are here to help us get a new perspective. A class in comparative law is just what we need. I must warn you, though, we have no textbooks, no printer, and no computers. Sometimes we don’t even have lights,” he laughed. Continue reading ““Hide your papers,” he advised, “under the potatoes.””→
I first saw an image rise up from a pan of Kodak D-76 in 1995. I cried. It was a miracle, and I had created it. Well, Nikon, Kodak, and a bunch of chemicals had created it. The blank 8 x 10 piece of paper morphed into a black and white image of a freckled girl becoming a woman. I didn’t realize the experience would be so personal, so intimate. I needed my own darkroom. I picked up a newspaper and searched for a used enlarger. I found a 30 year old, 3 foot tall, Omega D6 on sale by an 85 year old man. He sold me his entire darkroom: light box, loupes, timer, safelight, tongs, easel, and enlarger. Continue reading “My first darkroom image”→
“Hey, Volodya, take care of this American lady,” Borys hollered down the hall. A gangly young man peered around the corner. Grunting to Borys in a “Ja, ja,” but smiling at me like Dick van Dyke in Mary Poppins, ayoung man took my hand and guided me down and around into a long narrow room soaked with the smell of chemicals. “Is OK. I speak English. Not very well, but we will be fine. We will be friends. We will talk photography.” Pointing to the enlargers, he said, “These are old Russian machines. Not bad. Nothing like you have in America, I bet.”