As I strolled near the outdoor food market in Mogilev-Podolsky, a small, west Ukrainian town, I passed 14 year-old Andrei, a high school student wearing a winter hat with the Ukraine coat of arms on it. I wasn’t too surprised to see someone wearing such a hat in this town considering there were Ukrainian flags all around town. Nonetheless, I wanted to ask Andrei why he chose to wear it.
Ruslan has been working as a barber for several years, having first started in Moscow before moving to Voronezh. I asked how he got into the business. He said his mother's best friend was a hair stylist and recommdnded he give styling a shot.
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.
Like Sasha (yday portrait) Anna also said the most memorable event last year was a real-life lesson. Anna, who comes from a well-to-do family near the Ukraine border, said she decided to donate lots of her clothing and toys to Donetsk refugees. However, she gave away her first childhood toys that had family meaning, so Anna had to go to the refugee camp to find them. Anna said visting the camp shocked her as she "had never seen people in such poverty before."
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.
Katya was sitting outside a mall on a sunny day before the New Year dressed in all black except for a big, white tank top that was over her turtleneck. As she smoked her cigarette, Katya told me that she had just done some holiday shopping (those are her white bags) and was waiting for her sister. A future designer, Katya said one of the most memorable events of 2014 was an impromtu summer picnick with her friend at 2am in a Moscow park with beer and sushi. She said their spot was an island of happiness amid the homeless, police and trash in the dark vicinity.
He was making espresso and cappuccino near a Moscow university from the back of a 'coffee car.' These coffee cars started appearing about 1-2 years ago here and are becoming a bit of a trend as people get used to coffee-on-the-go. He said the machines can work in temp as cold as -15c. His company chose this location as 'students like to drink coffee.' The ruble drop has boosted his company's costs by 30%. They haven't yet passed on the costs to coffee drinkers, but his coffee is still cheaper than the Starbucks 100 meters from his car. I asked him about thd big moments in his life in 2014. He said he moved recently to Moscow from Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia to save money to build a home. He also said he was Muslim and began reading for 1st time a prayer book, which has had a very big impact on his life. "Before, I didn't know the purpose of life, where we came from. I am trying to find the answers.
I had just taken a photo of a guy selling coffee from a 'coffee van' when this guy came over, a briefcase in hand. He started asking the coffee guy what I was doing, so I turned around and told him I was working on a Russia photo project. He said he was from Azerbaijan, but moved to Russia some 10 years ago and has Russian citizenship.
I then asked if I could talk to him and photograph him for my project. He said yes and insisted on speaking English with me. He said he has a family clothing business, buying goods from China and selling them here. He said the clothing he was wearing - the jacket, scarf and sweater - was exactly the stuff he sells. He said he only buys his family the clothes that he sells. He said things have been a bit tough with the ruble move, though you would never guess that by the positive mood that he was in. He said he was working on 20 contracts with shopping centers in Russia, but the deals fell through after the ruble dropped. As we were talking next to a university, I asked him to stand in front of it so i could take his picture.
A university guard came up and said we couldn’t photograph. We asked why. ‘’It’s not permitted.’’ What are we doing wrong?' I asked. He repeated that it was not permitted, throwing in the ‘’What can I do, this is Russia’’ excuse as he shrugged his shoulders. The Azeri - perhaps in reaction to the guard's concern - then asked me if I was writing ‘compromat’ - or dirt - on Russia. No, I told him. He was relieved I was not doing compromat and we went to another spot to photograph. He then asked if he could take a photo with me. I said sure. He walked over to the guard and asked him to take our photo, but he refused. So, he walked over to three students - two guys and a girl - and asked them if they could take our photo with his phone. He told them I was American and was doing a photo project, adding it wasn’t compromat. The girl giggled. One of the guys took the phone and photographed us. He then gave me a traditional handshake and departed.
I remember how some friends in NYC changed their look and image rather substantially after one or two years after highschool...Anna, who grew up in a provincial Volga town, entered university as an architecture student in Sept 2013 with brown hair. By January 2014, she had black hair. By June, when I first past her at a bus stop, she was blonde with dreads and 'India-inspired' clothing. She said she was on her way to a weekend-long outdoor music festival and dreamed of visiting India. When I saw her again at end of 2014, she said she was taking time off from university, spending her days drawing India motifs and doing yoga.
As I mentioned in my last post, the Starbucks shops in Moscow attract a colorful crowd. Alina and Dasha were watching the American TV serial Fargo on their tablet as they drank their Lattes. Each shared one earphone to listen to the show. Alina, a journalism student, said after watching many serials, they can understand the peculiar jokes. I left shortly after taking their picture to run some errands. When I passed by the store about 75 minutes later, Alina and Dasha were still sitting their watching the serials.