Saturday, 28 March 2009
The featured portrait is painted by Mongolian artist Cerendoržyn Ölzbaatar, and obviously inspired by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres' portrait of Napoleon.
Thursday, 19 March 2009
Tuesday, 17 March 2009
Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii (1863-1944) was an innovator in colour photography. In the early 1900's, he formulated an ambitious plan to document the Russian Empire in full colour. He wanted to educate the empire's young citizens of its vast and diverse history, culture and modernization.
Tsar Nicholas II supported this project, and in 1909-1912, and again in 1915, Prokudin-Gorskii completed surveys of eleven regions, traveling in a specially equipped railroad car provided by the Ministry of Transportation.
According to Wikipedia, "his process used a camera that took a series of monochrome pictures in rapid sequence, each through a different colored filter. By projecting all three monochrome pictures using correctly-colored light, it was possible to reconstruct the original color scene. Any stray movement within the camera's field of view showed up in the prints as multiple "ghosted" images, since the red, green and blue images were taken of the subject at slightly different times.
He also successfully experimented with making color prints of the photographs, but the process was complicated and slow. It was only with the advent of digital image processing that multiple images could be satisfactorily combined into one."
The resulting images give a unique insight to an era we are used to seeing in monochrome only.
The Library of Congress has made a large amount of his photographs of landscapes, architectural monuments, industry, transportation and people available on their site. Here is a small, unsorted selection of his portraits from the vast Russian Empire ... Click to see them larger.
A fabric merchant in Samarkand. Note the framed Koran page above the stall.
Georgian tomato merchant near Sochi.
On the Registan, Samarkand.
A tea room in Samarkand.
A shashlyk restaurant in Samarkand.
A shepherd outside Samarkand.
At the Salyuktin mines on the outskirts of Samarkand.
A carpenter in Samarkand.
Fat tail sheep on the Golodnaya steppe.
Nazar Magomet, Golodnaya steppe. Note the doggie!
A Turkmen man posing with a camel loaded with sacks, probably of grain or cotton. Camel caravans remained the most common means of transporting goods in Central Asia well into the railroad era.
A young Bashkir.
A Bashkir switchman near the town of Ust' Katav on the Yuryuzan River between Ufa and Chelyabinsk in the Ural Mountain region of European Russia.
Packaging department, Borzhom (today's Borjomi, Georgia).
A man in a courtyard, place unknown.
A shashlyk restaurant, Samarkand.
Doctors in Samarkand.
Mullahs by a mosque, Azizia, Batumi.
A Sunni Muslim man of undetermined nationality in Dagestan.
Finally, here is a black and white photograph, which nonetheless has very interesting subjects ...
Barbers in the Registan, Samarkand.
Friday, 13 March 2009
Interesting tidbit of trivia about Russian ethnic jokes:
Totally invented accusations in these folkloric items show the same folk tendency to ascribe negative behavior to 'the other,' as is the case, for example, in British and American cultures. For instance, what is called a 'French kiss' in contemporary British and American cultures was named 'Tartar kiss' in medieval Russia [...]
Now, in what way is French (or Tatar!) kissing a "negative behavior", we may ask...
From Emil Draitser, Taking Penguins To The Movies: Ethnic Humor in Russia, Wayne State University Press 1998 (GoogleBooks)
For further study, Draitser is quoting Eve Levin, Sex and Society in the World of the Orthodox Slavs, 900-1700, Cornell University Press 1989.
And the illustration? It's from the Russian fairytale "Krupenichka", as told by Nikolai Teleshov. The fair maiden Krupenichka is stolen by Tatars, who want to marry her off to their Khan. A wizard rescues her by changing her into a buckwheat seed - known as "tatar" in many languages (e.g. "tattari" in Finnish). (Found in the book Tulilind ("Firebird"), an Estonian collection of fairytales published in Tallinn 1951)
Sunday, 8 March 2009
When wives of workers and soldiers from the Petrograd neighbourhood Выборгская сторона went on strike on March 8th 1917 (February 23rd according to the Julian calendar), it was the spark that set the February revolution aflame. In honour of these women, the Second International Conference of Communist Women in Moscow 1921 set the date of the International Women's Day to be March 8th.
The Communist origins of the holiday have been bothering people in the USA, and an alternative history has been constructed, about which you can read more on Wikipedia.
In the Soviet Union and many other east bloc countries in the period after WWII, International Women's Day evolved into a non-political celebration of love for women. (Perhaps it was assumed that since men and women were already equal in the Soviet system, there was no need for the political dimension anymore?) Women are given flowers and chocolates, and there are special parties for women only. Like Mother's Day, Women's Day might typically be the only day of the year when a mother doesn't have to do all the housework.
There is a similar holiday for men, День защитника отечества (Defender of the Fatherland Day) on February 23rd. It was originally a day for celebrating the men and women who have served in the Soviet army, but has evolved into the men's counterpart of Women's Day, where men are given flowers and chocolates and TV broadcasts romantic war movies in the early evening.
We missed Defender of the Fatherland Day this year on Chirayliq, but mum sent me a link to a fun news story about International Women's Day in Russia ...
Apparently, Alexander Ostaschenko and Evgeny Ryndin from Barnaul in the Altai region "had pledged they would run around town naked if 3000 people went on their social networking internet page before International Women's Day on March 8. Two days before deadline already 4000 people had registered. A large crowd of people cheered as they arrived in the city centre, waving flags, posters and flowers." Temperatures were below zero.
I have so far failed to find any independent source for this, or the actual site or profiles of these guys, so we'll have to believe photographer Andrei Kasprishin from Reuters ...
Saturday, 7 March 2009
Thanks to the blog Moscow Through Brown Eyes, I was inspired to dig up some nice photos of American poet Langston Hughes' travels in early 1930's Soviet Central Asia. The Yale University Library has an online exhibition of Hughes' life (1902-1967) for starters.
In 1932, Hughes boarded the S/S Europa with a group of African-American actors and writers on their way to the Soviet Union. Their purpose was to make a film about the plight of black people in the United States, but after long and fruitless meetings with the Soviet producers, the whole project was scrapped.
Hughes took the chance to travel around Soviet-controlled Central Asia, areas that usually were not accessible to Westerners but that interested him for personal and political reasons. Hughes wanted to find a positive example of a "coloured South" to contrast with the Jim Crow south of the US. He met African-American engineers involved in the modernization of the Soviet cotton industry. He also met the Hungarian intellectual Arthur Koestler, who at the time was a member of the Communist party, but had already begun to develop his critical eye for the system. Hughes was a Communist sympathizer, although no party member - for him the dream of racial equality was so important that he preferred to look away from the harsh realities of famine and oppression. His self-critical period would come later, after WW2.
That said... maybe he was just dazzled by all the chirayliq guys he met on his travels?
From Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library's Langston Hughes collection. Described as "Group photograph of unidentified men and women in Russia, possibly Uzbekistan". See the larger original here.
Young writers of Central Asia, Hughes in the middle. On the backside of the photo there are descriptions in Cyrillic, which the library hasn't bothered to decipher.
Hughes' surprise traveling companion, Arthur Koestler. View the whole image here, plus chicken. Apparently Koestler heard someone play jazz records (this article claims it was Sophie Tucker singing "My Yiddishe Mamme") at a guesthouse in Ashqabat and knocked at the door; imagine his astonishment to find the poet whose works he had admired already in Europe.
Karim Ahmadii is perhaps the name of this man who dedicated his portrait to Hughes in 1933.
This is what Hughes wished to see - a coloured man and a white man shaking hands. His superficial view of Soviet race relations is problematic but understandable from today's perspective. The photo is titled "Yusuf Nichanov".
Back in the United States, Hughes wrote an article on traditional Uzbek dance for Travel Magazine.
He especially admired the "teacup dance", which he simply called "raks" (from raqs, dance), and was intrigued by the batcha - danging boys dressed and made up like women. (More on traditional Uzbek dance here.)
And in case you thought Hughes only had an eye for the guy, here's Tamara Khanum, dancing teacher, first woman to perform without the veil in Uzbekistan. The fate of her colleague Nurkhon shows what a brave act this was.
Langston Hughes wrote about his travels in A Negro Looks at Soviet Central Asia, a short book reprinted as recently as 2006 in Bishkek. There is an interesting discussion about Hughes and the re-publication at the Registan blog.
Like Tinet, Buster has written a lot about migrant workers in Russia and other issues of social concern, but my favourite feature on MTBE is the recurring Russian Rap Friday. The last two videos have been especially sweet:
Rapper Huligan, Russian from Kazakhstan, gets to the roots with «Я провинциален» ("I'm Country").
Rapper-throatsinger Ondar sings for Tuva in Vladivostok, and Buster finds lots of yummy clips of Yul Brynner (Siberian-born Russian-Swiss-Mongolian-Roma, whom we probably should write about more) as side dishes to the main course.
*) Both Hughes and Du Bois, as well as many other African-American intellectuals, visited the USSR in the 1920's and 1930's. Hughes even travelled extensively in Central Asia in 1932, and visited China and Japan. Here's an article about how Langston Hughes' poetry survives in the school curriculum in Turkmenistan. It's also a very interesting re-telling of the chance meeting and ensuing companionship between Hughes and Arthur Koestler in the heart of Central Asia. There's also an incredible twist at the end of the story...
Friday, 6 March 2009
"Samurai Soul" by Ulfuls, a Japanese rock band from Osaka. A comment on the condition of Japanese masculinity?... The lyrics are sweeter than I expected. Here's a translation.
The lead singer and soulful (hence 'ulful') samurai is Atsushi 'Tortoise' Matsumoto.
Photo from this interview. The next one I picked from another interview - it's one of the rare photos where guitarist Ulful Keisuke (first guy on the right) smiles! Click to view larger.
Drummer Sankon Jr.'s teeth are so adorably mixed up.
Posing like the Shinsengumi... (just look at Hijikata Toshizo at the National Diet Library's portrait gallery!)