Russia, July 27, 1999
As you can tell from my website, bring your camera!The Kodak Revolution happened in Russia sometime about 1992. That means that there is a Kodak sign every block in Moscow, indicating a store that will sell you color film and develop your photos. This is an amazing feat. Before 1992, the only film in Russia was hand made black & white or smuggled in from the West. My old landlord had a few photo albums, and by the look of the prints, he developed them himself.
Now that there is a seller and a developer on every block, don't think its gonna work like the West or anything. Buying the film is normal, with a choice between Kodak and Fuji, (but who would every buy Fuji?!), but it is in developing where the experience differs.
My local expert.
The negatives are usually uncut, and even more rarely, in plastic sleeves. Frustrating, but survivable. The prints are decent, but nothing like a good developer in the States. I used to be one, so I feel qualified to say so. Usually several negatives are not printed. Since one is usually the best photo of the roll, either the developer liked that print and kept it, or the FSB (today's KGB) liked the print. Maybe, after messing it up, the developer threw the first print away but didn't make a new one. It is the most frustrating aspect of photography here!
Tuesday, July 27, 1999, Moscow Times
Strike a Pose, or Pay Later
By Daisy Sindelar
This spring, my family suffered a collective clan trauma following the wedding of one of its members. The marriage itself was a joyous occasion; the trouble began a week or so later, when the pictures came back from the photo lab and began their rounds of interstate circulation. They were extremely painful. My family, a relatively normal-looking group of folk that should be capable of standing neatly in a row and smiling at the camera, was instead captured blinking, chewing, yawning, pontificating without an audience, complaining, and scratching. Stomachs distended, arms a-waggle, yanking up pantyhose and storming the champagne table, we looked as though we had just been released from an island of lost civilization, draped in party clothes and sent back to the mainland for a period of intense re-socialization.
Those few people who managed to pull themselves into an upright position and smile becomingly were invariably looking in the wrong direction. And this was before the dancing even started Afterward, my mother took one look at the photos, holding them at arm's length for safety, and promptly buried them in a drawer. Yet another family event down the aesthetic tubes.
I couldn't help but think: this never would have happened if we had been a Russian family, Russians know how to pose for a photograph. And the long, hot summer has driven this salient point home yet again. There's not a monument in the, city not surrounded by Russians carefully getting their pictures taken for proud posterity. Shoulders back, chin high, right heel lodged at left instep with a graceful bend in the knee - this is the making of a good photograph.
More often than not, extra flourishes are added - for women, its hands on hips (or, la piece de resistance, behind the head), hair swung over inclined -shoulder, various body parts draped seductively over a crumbling urn. Among the men, the classic muscle-flex posture seems to be maintaining a steady popularity, as does the, thoughtful crouch, alert and reassuring, as though they were Lawrence of Arabia surveying a map in the desert. Even Russian children know how to hold their own next to a statue five times their size. Most impressive of all, there is an instinctual group dynamic that provides for people to be photographed as successfully en masse as they are individually. Each Russian appears to have a bit of the choreographer in his or her soul.
I used to think all this posing was a little goofy, but after this latest wedding photo debacle, I realize I'm in no position to judge. Every North American has a drawer full of buried pictures- we are notorious, for taking had photographs.
Despite our lousy international reputation, I would argue that Americans are, often more shy and self-conscious than our puffed-up image, suggests, a fact reflected in our repeated feckless attempts to capture ourselves on film' We are hopeful, as many people are, of looking attractive but are often embarrassed by the effort it necessarily requires. The extra I0 seconds it takes to properly arrange yourself for a memorable picture may cause an outside observer to think derisively: That person is posing for a photograph. Then you think: that person is thinking with derision that I am posing for a photograph. You get shiftyeyed and nervous, and your chance at getting a good picture is doomed forever.
For an American, the striking of a pose (save a silly and self-effacing one) can be unbearable. For a Russian, it isn't even a consideration. Posing for photographs is considered natural, normal, and duly respectful of the price of film. It is also an extension of the inherent confidence that is a marked characteristic among Russians, who despite occasional poetic professions of self-loathing are remarkably unselfconscious.
As a rule, they are not put off by public speaking or spontaneous social gatherings; their personal habits are amazingly free of nail-biting, nose-rubbing and other nervous ticks. They sit calmly for street portraits and receive compliments with grace. They are wonderful singers and joke-tellers; their toasts are mini-masterpieces. Their children are like one-man band, with poetry recitations, folk dancing, and astonishingly accurate watercolor landscapes produced on the hour. Accepting the premise that life is a stage, one might believe that some countries simply produce better performers. Or at least better photographs.
Still, we Americans should try harder. At the next family wedding, I am going to suggest that we all drape ourselves over urns, or at least extract a promise from the photographer that he'll have us all looking more or less in the same direction before he snaps the shot. Maybe it he stands between us and the champagne table he'll stand a chance.