Tag Archives: Flickr

To Russia With Love

I’ve been gradually scanning my father’s photos, posting them to Flickr, and encouraging my family — especially my mother — to comment so as to identify names and places that are unfamiliar to me.  I recently scanned the photos from my parents’ travels during the summer of 1959, including a trip to the Soviet Union.

I posted the photos and invited my mother to tag and comment . . . and ended up with mentions on a number of Russian websites, a couple of Russian commenters on Flickr offering their thoughts on the photos, and over 50,000 views since the photos went up a week ago.

With the help of Google Translate and my mother, who speaks Russian, I’ve been learning more about the photos and commenters.

For example, here is a Live Journal page by “Finnish Passenger

{Snip from LiveJournal page in Russian. Translated below.}

Google translates this as:

In 1959, the American Peter Robertson on a tourist visa to visit the Soviet Union. Under the cut I have selected 48 photographs from his archive. Photos from the trip are interesting in that a Soviet citizen would not do at all these pictures, because ordinary is happening, and in ofitsilnyh magazines and newspapers printed entirely different subjects.

Yeah, the translation is a bit rough.

Another Russian blogger turned the photos into a guessing game and then provided answers (in addition to the answers in the comments).

My favorite of the bunch is this photo and some of the commentary around it:

{Black and white photo of a cobblestone street and sidewalk.  In the foreground is a very small three-wheeled vehicle, suitable for at most one person, open on top and looking almost home-made out of pieces of welded steel.  In the background are pedestrians and in the far background, indistinct buildings.}

I had no idea what this was.  A Flickr commenter, Leonid Paulov, explained,

Machine for the disabled. When I was 8 years old living in Kazakhstan. Roads there was not. After the rain this car off the road. The driver of a war veteran with Germany very loudly berated those who made this car

Remember, this is Google Translate talking, so it’s not that everyone in Russia actually sounds like Boris and Natasha.  Mom did a better job with the translation:

It’s a machine for disabled people. When I was 8 years old, I lived in Kazakstan. There were no roads for automobiles. After it rained, this machine could go out on the shoulder. A bus driver who participated in the war with Germany loudly berated those who made this automobile.

I asked:

So this is car that would be used by a disabled person? Like a wheelchair with an engine?

Mr. Paulov responded,

Yes, this is the first vehicle for persons with disabilities in the Soviet Union manufactured 60 years ago.

Still not clear on the role of the veteran/bus driver.  Here’s another Russian site commenting on the same photo.

Gazeta in Russian

The last paragraph reads,

In this collection you will actually find a lot of interesting details. For example, a rare three-wheeled wheelchair in front of the historic journey to Moscow.

There were a number of photos of women working on roads or in the fields.  One commenter noted  —  tersely but (to me) poignantly — that, because of the war, there was a dearth of men:

{Image snipped from a blog showing a black and white photograph of women working on a road and Cyrillic (Russian) letters in a caption above the photo.  The image also includes an icon representing the commenter, who looks like a buff comic book hero.}

(Pretty buff commenter, though, eh?)

A theater showing “War and Peace.”

{Black and white photograph of people walking in front of a building with a large banner in Russian.}

Reading the newspaper:

{Black and white photo of men gathered in front of a newspaper that is posted on the exterior wall of a building.}

The photo below is apparently a tank of something called kvass, which my mother described as a drink made from fermented rye bread.  Truly a testament to the ingenuity that can arise from the combination of great deprivation and great thirst.

{Black and white photo of an old time pick up truck towing a small tank of liquid, parked in front of a building.}

The sign says “place for feeding pigeons.”  And that’s Mom — in her travel gear — a far cry from the jeans and hiking shoes I wore for my post-college travels.


The requisite giant portrait of Khruschev.

{Black and white photo of a building with a giant portrait of Nikita Khruschev leaning against the columns in the front of the building.  The portrait is over twice the height of a man standing near it.}

and the people tasked with schlepping the giant portrait:

{Black and white photo of a giant portrait being carried horizontally by five women in scarves.}

More to come in a future post — by me or perhaps a guest post by Mom!

Does this make me an Illuminati?

As will soon be tediously clear, I have started taking photography classes.  Not for the first time, either.  I got a serious 35mm camera* for high school graduation, took a class at the local rec center, and somehow convinced myself I knew what I was doing.  There ensued some deeply meaningful but thoroughly awful photographs, including a few that got published in the Swarthmore college newspaper after I beat out a highly competitive field of approximately zero other people for the title of Assistant Photo Editor.  So not kidding.

Herewith an example of my deeply artistic but pathetically incompetent college photography and dark room skills:

I carried the camera around campus for four non-contiguous years and then around Taiwan and other parts of Asia for the next three non-contiguous years, taking the occasional brilliant photograph, and boatloads of expensive-to-develop 35mm crap.  Actually, one of my funniest sets of travel photos was from a cross-country drive I took somewhere in the middle of law school, in which I guess I discovered real mountains for the first time, because I have close to an entire roll of slides devoted to distance shots of fields, lakes or — most commonly — the road with mountains in the background.  I now call that “the view from my morning commute.”

A few years ago, Tim gave me a seriously good DSLR camera and after spending too long using it on “auto” while trying to remember what the eff an f-stop was, I decided earlier this year to take a class.  I’m having a blast!  The first round of classes — Digital 101 at Illuminate Workshops — reacquainted me with f-stops, shutter speeds, and ISO, introduced me for the first time to the majority of the buttons and data on my camera, and then moved on to a long-overdue introduction to composition.

We had homework, which like a good little student nerd, I did.  For the first class, the instructor asked us to experiment with shutter speed and aperture:

For the second class, we were supposed to take a portrait and a “macro.”  Oh, and I forgot to mention, the instructor displays and critiques our photos.  My classmate Gabriela went first. Her macro was a stunning photo of a jade bracelet on a mirror.  Her portraits looked like this:

The reason her portraits looked like this is because SHE TOOK THIS PORTRAIT!  Why, might you ask, is Gabriela in Digital Photography 101?  No clue, but she is hilarious and asks great questions, so I’m glad she’s there.  For example, had we not reviewed Gabriela’s boudoir photo of a shapely — mostly naked — woman photographed from behind, I would not have learned that to get good photos of a naked tuchis, you have to request the owner of the tuchis to, um, clench.  The class discussed this in a professional manner, while I exerted superhuman effort not to snicker.

But then it was my turn.  Here is my macro homework .

Seriously.  We went from jade bracelets and naked tuchii to, um, a rock. Luckily my portrait homework was of my mother-in-law, so I held my own in that division!  (Though, for the record, she was fully clothed.)  The instructor was very kind to my rock, but did use it to start to teach us how Photoshop can be used to make photos more interesting.

So I’m planning to use the blog to post my photography practice from time to time, and I’m putting all of what I think of as my more interesting practice photos on Flickr, so if you’re really bored, you can hop over there and take a look.  I’m partial to architecture and abstract and averse to portraits, so there will be lots of stuff that looks like this:

Which likely only I find interesting.  Still, the occasional “ooh” or “ahh” in the comments would make me smile!


* My photography instructor – and most of the world, I gather – would now call it a “film camera,” because of course in 1978, we didn’t have digital cameras.  If I recall correctly, this is called – in the linguistics biz – a “back formation.”  I love back formations.  Think about it: acoustic guitar; snail mail; chicken fried chicken.  I’m not sure about the last, but I love it just the same.