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Cold War Wonderland: Photographing the East/West Divide

What Soviet babushkas have to do with the fall of the Roman Empire and the Egyptian Revolution.

Jason Eskenazi grew up in Queens during the peak of the Cold War, bombarded by the era’s typical propaganda about “The Evil Empire” on the other side of the Iron Curtain. Convinced that reality must be less black-and-white than what the Reagan administration was making it up to be, Eskenazi took off from his day job as security guard at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and spent a decade documenting life in the former Soviet Union in stunning black-and-white photographs, collected in Wonderland: A Fairy Tale of the Soviet Monolith. The result is an almost surreal, anachronistic, poetic portrait of a culture seemingly frozen in time, exuding an odd yet alluring symmetry between beauty and tragedy.

There were all these things from 50 years ago, and everything looked like the photography that I was brought up on.” ~ Jason Eskenazi

Army Base, Karagandar, Kazakhstan, 1998
Image courtesy of Jason Eskenazi via NPR
Holiday, Shutilova, Russia, 2000
Image courtesy of Jason Eskenazi via NPR
Caspian Sea Baku, Azerbaijan, 1997
Image courtesy of Jason Eskenazi via NPR
Young Sailors Club, Kostrama, Russia, 2000
Image courtesy of Jason Eskenazi via NPR
Farm Milkmaid, Northern Kazakhstan, 1998
Image courtesy of Jason Eskenazi via NPR
Space Museum, Moscow, 1998
Image courtesy of Jason Eskenazi via NPR
Waltz Competition, Moscow, 1996
Image courtesy of Jason Eskenazi via NPR
Hill of Crosses, Lithuania, 2000
Image courtesy of Jason Eskenazi via NPR

Images via NPR

This month, Eskenazi, now a Fulbright Scholar, is setting out to create an ambitious companion narrative to WonderlandThe Black Garden, a fascinating look at the East-West divide that seeped into culture long past the end of the Cold War explored through the lens of mythology, from the Trojan War, to the fall of the Roman Empire, to the Ottoman conquest of Europe, to today’s post-9/11 conflicts in the Middle East and the revolutions in Egypt and Libya. And he’s funding it on Kickstarter.

It’s a truly inspired project, equal parts ambitious and needed, so please join me in supporting it.


Published May 26, 2011

https://www.brainpickings.org/2011/05/26/jason-eskenazi-wonderland/

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