Vladimir, my father’s older brother, developed a passion for photography in unconventional circumstances. Having survived polio, which he caught during World War II, Vladimir suddenly couldn’t move. The disease had ravaged his muscles, leaving him crippled, and while he couldn’t join other children playing, he observed their games from his chair. Then a neighbor, a military captain, gave him his first camera. It was a Fotokor-1, a folding bed plate film camera from 1934, and taking a cue from its name–Fotokor means “photo journalist”, foto korrespondent in Russian–a thirteen year old boy began to photograph everything around him. Eventually, Vladimir grew strong enough to move around unaided, but photography has remained his lifelong interest, which he passed on to me.
This is the Kyiv of the early 1950s. Vladimir takes pictures in the streets of the city–of girls jumping rope, of boys teasing girls, of girls taunting boys, of boys doing naughty things, of soldiers marching, of women waiting in line, of kids having fun, of life as it carries on in a place still marked by war. The photos of Vladimir himself were taken by his younger brother, Valery, although he directed the composition. A small selection I made for you gives a unique, candid glimpse into the Soviet Union of the postwar period as well as the world of one feisty boy.
Dior New Look debuted in 1947, but in the Soviet cities of the 1950s there were still lots of heavy coats and 40s style dresses. Magazines from the period show much more elegant outfits, but for most women they were in the realm of fantasy.
The 50s are generally seen as the period when the Soviet economy started taking off (although not as fast as its propaganda machine claimed). As a vast portion of the state budget went towards the military complex, the daily life of ordinary citizens hadn’t seen much improvement. There were plenty of guns and very little butter.
One of my favorite images in the series is the one of Vladimir standing in front of a billboard advertising the 1953-54 season. One poster announces the circus program. Another features a bill of concerts and plays. The Ukrainian Theater of Opera and Ballet is staging Lakme, Qon Quixote, The Humpbacked Horse, Prince Igor, and Faust, an eclectic range. His clothes are too big for his thin body, but he stands firmly, one hand tucked into a pocket, another into the front of his jacket–a tough guy stance that masks his lifeless right arm. He has been ill and he has suffered, but he refuses to be seen as a victim.
Vladimir has retired from his profession as an economist and now lives with his daughter and two grandchildren. He spends his free time inventing electronic gadgets, exercise equipment and new vegan recipes. He is in his eighties.
All photography copyright Bois de Jasmin, all rights reserved.