The Unseen USSR: Red Square, 1978

It’s the perfect marriage of my appreciation for Soviet-era ephemera and “found photos”: I have acquired a number of old 35 mm slides of photos by various and sundry unnamed world travelers, taken during the 1970s and 1980s. The collections I am currently sorting through include hitherto unpublished scenes from the USSR and Eastern Europe.

Below are some newly discovered photos of St. Basil’s Cathedral in Red Square, taken during a tourist’s visit to Moscow in 1978. The colors have faded, but there is a lingering charm in these images, as they were captured in the midst of an era in which many westerners were taught to regard the Soviet Union as a closed and unwelcoming frontier.

Click on the photos to view larger images.

The images above were produced using a Wolverine F2D-8 slide & negative scanner.

Lots more to come…

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The recyclable (and compostable) Trump

Chalk it up to my wistful yearning for the way things used to be, but I still buy vintage news magazines at thrift stores and garage sales and read them like they’re relevant and fresh. A recent haul included a bunch of Smithsonian magazines and issues of Time from the early 1980s through the early 1990s. While working my way through that batch of periodicals, I was pleasantly surprised to find a gem of an item in the “Milestones” section of the October 7, 1991 issue of Time in which the magazine’s editors showed that they had Donald Trump’s number decades before anyone could have even conceived that he would someday ascend to the office of Chief Executive.

generic trump

“Stay tuned for an update.” This joker is President now. There’s your update, America.

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Mostar before the war

A couple of months ago, I acquired a large collection of 35 mm slides from an online seller who apparently specializes in estate liquidation. The collection appears to have belonged to a family from Austria and many of the slides are from their vacations in Europe in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Some of the images show interesting landmarks and landscapes, while others depict little more than the simple pleasures of an adventurous and happy family.

One particularly interesting group of photos depict the Stari Most (Old Bridge) in the Herzegovina village of Mostar during the family’s visit to the area in 1970. Croat forces destroyed the 16th century landmark in 1993 during the Bosnian War. Stari Mostar was eventually rebuilt and restoration work was completed in 2004.

There are, of course, many photos of Stari Most from before the Bosnian War and after, but the images in my “Austrian collection” have a certain charm and mystique. They capture memories of a world that has changed dramatically in a relatively short period of time, as seen and experienced by enthusiastic and appreciative visitors.

Below are the best of my Mostar slides. They reflect the photographic technology of the day and the overall quality of the images seems to have eroded a bit with age. I didn’t attempt to enhance the colors, but where necessary I have retouched some of the images slightly to remove dirt and the most apparent signs of the physical deterioration of the slides.

“Urlaub 70” (Vacation 70); Mostar
photographer unknown

“Urlaub 70” (Vacation 70); Mostar

“Urlaub 70” (Vacation 70); Mostar

“Urlaub 70” (Vacation 70); Mostar
photographer and subject unknown

“Urlaub 70” (Vacation 70); Mostar

“Urlaub 70; Fährt nach Mostar” (Vacation 70; Drive to Mostar)

The images above were produced using a Wolverine F2D-8 slide & negative scanner.

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Echoes of the pen and brush

While browsing through books at a thrift shop a few weeks ago, I happened upon a slim edition on surrealist art. The book, entitled Surrealism: With 24 Illustrations,*  was a volume from the 1956 series “Movements in Modern Art” and, at first glance, I found it to be somewhat unremarkable. As far as my own taste in art goes, I typically prefer work from the realist and futurist movements, as well as Catholic and Byzantine iconography. What piqued my curiosity with regard to this thrift store finding, though, was not necessarily the content in this volume – which included works by Max Ernst, Salvador Dalí, Marc Chagall and others – but the lengthy, passionate inscription written across the first several pages of the book. Laden with compelling language and imagery, the dedication tells the story of a struggling and perhaps troubled artist who was implored by those around him to use his talent to exorcise his proverbial demons.

I wish I knew more about the person who wrote the dedication as well as the man to whom it was offered. It would be particularly nice to know if the inscription ultimately inspired great works, or if the challenges this individual faced were simply too much to overcome.

Below is my transcription of the inscription, along with scans of the original handwritten version and scans of plates from the book.

When you feel a raging violence engulfing you, Matthew – an uncontrollable, maddening compulsion to pulverize anything in sight – [all] of a sudden you’ll screech – a devastating, “primal scream” – perhaps only you will hear it – but it will release your mind from its cage – The release must be sought, though – you must run your life like fire – then come back and paint – paint with the furiousness of Van Gough – you have the great ability to paint – so do it !! How do you think the men in this book vented their agonies, their violence, their mad dreams? Paint, Matthew! Run!! And above all, Think!! But you must do all three! Don’t give into piggishness – overcome it!  – MEW

The Healer, René Magritte, 1937

The Polish Cavalier, Max Ernst, 1934

* Full citation:

Schmeller, Alfred. Surrealism: with 24 illustrations. Trans. Hilde Spiel. New York: Crown Publishers, 1956. Print.


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