Saturday, 25 June 2011

Russia At The Time of the Fall

It is rare for me to photograph urban scenes and even more unusual to be photographing in Europe. It was the summer of 1991 and I was asked by a New York publisher to travel to Siberia and photograph for a book about the natural history of Siberia. The publisher got me together with a writer named David Matlock, who happened to also be the son of the then US ambassador to the USSR, John Matlock.  

We met for the first time in Moscow.  That came about because in those days, when the USSR was still Communist and tightly regulated, if one was a tourist trying to see the huge country, it was not possible to fly directly west from my home in Anchorage, Alaska to the eastern Siberian coast. The Russian nuclear fleet was stationed there and it was strictly off limits.   Instead I had to fly east, literally all around the globe, nearly the full 24,000 mile circumference, in order to explore Siberia. Today it seems ridiculous, but that was the reality of 1991.

On my lengthy  trip west I got to stop in Moscow. There I met up with David Matlock and we stayed at the palacial home of his dad, the ambassador.

On the wall of the room that I was assigned to sleep in I saw a photo of an incredibly ornate and beautiful Disneyland-like building. When I inquired about it I was informed that it was called St. Basil's Cathedral and was within walking distance.  So that evening I took my tripod and camera and strolled over to Red Square, adjacent to the Kremlin, and captured the photo above.

A month and a half later, in mid-August, when we were traveling by boat on the Lena River in a remote part of Siberia, we heard the first reports that there was an attempted coup by right-wingers within the government who opposed Gorbachev's liberal reforms.  Most of the action was occurring  right where I had been standing and photographing peacefully on that July night that I thought was so tranquil.

Mark Newman

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