It's a story I hear regularly...Karina came to Moscow from one of the former Soviet republics to earn money to help her grandson. She wants him to study in Europe, so she labors here - cooking and cleaning - to set aside money for his education. The Russian economic recession not only means that the rubles she earns buy less foreign currency needed for her grandson's study, but it means she earns fewer rubles as she has fewer clients these days. She is hoping to stick it out another year or two at the most and return home to see her family for first time in a decade.
Another photo of Nikolai, the retired machinery worker who has taken up ice-skating for firs time in decades to stay in shape. Nikolai came to the pond by bicycle.
One thing I have learned from my Russian street portraits is that Japanese culture is more popular among Russian youth (girls in particular) than I thought. Natalya, who was sitting in a Moscow cafe with a friend at a table next to me, said her most memorable event of 2014 was attending a concert by One Ok Rock, her favorite Japanee band. "Their music is an escape from everything bad that has happened." Natalya, who works in HR, has been a One Ok Rock fan for 6 years and was planning to go see them in Japan as she never imagined they would perform in Russia...Natalya said One Ok Rock's visit was especially memorable because she got the chance to give them a picture she drew for them.
Victor, 59, was sitting on a bench in the center of Minsk and I approached him to get his views on the city. He ignorned the questions and talked about his painting career. He said as a university student in USSR, he - like other students - was sent to a village to help with the potato harvest. While taking a break in a village house, he noticed a typical Belarusian rug with flower designs on a black background. The babushka let him take it. Twenty years later, he came across the rug amongst his stuff and it inspired a painting in his 'Snow in Black Square' series. The series itself is a play on 'Black Square' by Kazimir Malevich, who lived a few years in Belarus. Victor's site is: www.vitart.net
German was serving me cofee at a restaurant in the center of Minsk when I noticed the tattoos on his arm. They were from the film Spartak, a culture which is an inspiration to him. He said he is a mixed martial arts fighter and has taken part in 3 bouts. He has 'Fight til the End' tattooed across his chest.
Stanislav, my previous portrait post, is one of those stereotypical Russian stories about the Soviet generation. Anfisa is one about the Apple-toting, Internet savvy, post-Soviet generation. She was sitting by the window in a Starbucks, typing away on her Apple laptop at 4pm on New Year's Eve, when most Russians are preparing for their New Year's celebration. When I asked what she was up to, the 16yo answered she was writing a blog post for her readers, summing up her year. A portrait drawer and fashion lover, she said 2014 was a breakthru year as her Instagram followers jumped to 22,000 amid interest in her drawings. She said she plans on blogging more. "Before I was a nobody and had nothing to say. This year has changed me so much. I am inspired." She said she plans to answer her followers questions about herself in the future through youtube videos.
He was selling New Year's gifts in Minsk near the tractor factory, a less attractive part of the city. He said he put up his Christmas tree on Dec. 1, like he does every year. But this year, his girlfriend helped him clean up his apartment, throwing out alot of his old stuff. He said it was the best days of the year. He told me he rents the apartment basically for free - part of a state sponsored program to help orphans. He said his parents are alive...and that as a child he admired his dad .... But alcohol and crime changed everything. He said he has seen a lot, but tries to keep a positive outlook on life. However, he said many orphans will succumb to crime and drugs because they look up to gangster types.
Another photo of Stanislav, the nearly-blind 77yo accordion player, who says he will play till the end. Here you can see his instrument on a cart that he was dragging through the snow. He has a stick in his other hand to help him walk.
Before I continue with my Minsk photos, I want to post a two portraits from last 24h in Moscow to show how very different people were spending the holiday. I met Stanislav, a 77 yo accordion player, nearly a year ago at the Izmailovsky souvenir market, where he plays as tourists and Russians pass on their way to buy gifts. Today, I randomly saw him in the underpass near Izmailovsky as he dragged his accordion on a cart with one hand and used a sightseeing stick with the other. He had come to play for the holiday crowds, but the market was closed, so he was trying to find a populated place near the park. Nearly blind due - as he put it - to a bad operation, he says he won't stop playing regardless of how difficult it is to drag his stuff through the snow. "If I stop playing music, I will die. It is a holy cause." He said he was proud of his daughter, who has followed in his musical footsteps and often tours Europe to play.
She was working a food stand at a Moscow Christmas market in central Moscow, turning occasionally a lever to create music and attract customers. In asked her if she was worried at all about the ruble. "Of course I am, we are all concerned because prices will go up. It probably worries us migrants more than Russians." I didn't realize she was a migrant, so I asked where she was from. 'Eastern Ukraine, Kharkiv.' She said she works in Russia a few months and then goes back home in accordance with visa rules, one of the 3 million or so Ukrainians that work in Russia. I asked if the currency instability impacted her mood. She said people have been through this before. "You have to keep living regardless of whether you are in a good mood or not." At the end of the conversation, she told me she was from western Ukraine.