|| When the Cold War has ended, it seemed to many people both in Russia and in America that from then on the relations between two the states would just keep improving. It seemed that Russia and America could and should become not only strategic partners, but also friends. It seemed that we understood each other.
Fifteen years have passed, and, instead of progress, we are forced to speak of a certain cooling in our relations: The leaderships of the two countries stress their disagreements over geopolitical issues, and the residents of the two states once more regard each other with a degree of suspicion and mistrust.
To put it in simplified, though not very exaggerated terms, one could say that in the pre-Gorbachev era the Americans imagined all Russians as Communists, while Russians in turn imagined Americans as capitalist exploiters. Then, during a brief period of friendly euphoria, all that was forgotten, and we would say: “There is no difference between us; we live in different hemispheres, but we’re all just human beings.” Now, when that euphoria has passed, the time has probably come to take a closer look at each other, in order to achieve an awareness and an understanding of both the similarities and the differences. Yes, we Americans and Russians are, first and foremost, simply human beings; however, the fact that there are differences in our upbringing, experience, and cultural traditions leads to largely different worldviews and systems of values.
I consider the book that I am currently working on to be a contribution within my power to the issue of mutual understanding. I want to tell a story about people in two cities - Saint Petersburg and San Francisco - that are separated by an ocean and by an eleven-hour time difference. As a person who was born in Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg) and had lived there for thirty-four years before moving to San Francisco twenty three years ago, I am speaking not as an outside observer but as one who considers both these places to be his home.
However, throughout my photographic narrative, I am constantly keeping the readers aware that they are seeing not just two cities but also two separate countries and cultures, which are at once different and alike. The book’s core part consists of fifty two black-and-white photo portraits, twenty-six of them Saint-Petersburgians, and the other twenty-six, San Franciscans. The portraits’ subjects are represent various social and cultural groups: businessmen and journalists, film actors and laborers, shoe- makers and authors. Thus, the book’s readers will be able to form a collective portrait of each city’s inhabitants. To intensify and broaden the impression created by the portraits, I have included a series of photos showing the life of each city. These photos should give the reader an idea of the fabric of life, that is, of the respective cultural stews within which the two groups of characters exist; in other words, the background against which the readers will view the characters.
Employing a poetic method of narration, I intend to maintain a balance between emotional urgency and informational content, between social an existential. I feel that the key to showing the differences and similarities of the two cities should be comparison rather than contrast. I hope that such a book could show the American public something previously unrevealed not only about Russia’s everyday life and its circumstances, but also about the character of its residents; and, on the other hand, it could show the Russian public something new about Americans.
The book is organized as a collection of ’photo poems’, which should function on visual, emotional, and associative levels. I have already employed this poetic style of photographic narration in my previous book titled Joseph Brodsky, Leningrad: Fragments, which was published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux in May of 1998. Fragments has received an enthusiastic response from both critics and readers; excellent reviews of the book appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Examiner, and in many other newspapers and magazines. The book was also highly praised in the largest newspapers of Sweden, The Netherlands, Austria, and Switzerland, as well as in the most respected Russian periodicals.
The book is designed in a way that allows the reader to start it from any place, and encourages multiple readings. It consists of 11 separate photo-poems, each one a complete unit with its own formal structure and emotional tone. But each one of these units also presents an element of the larger narrative structure, that is, the big poem of the book. Each of these "chapters" is preceded by a quote, an epigraph taken from Russian or American poet which will help the reader to understand each chapter's symbolic structure.
The book is almost completed. It only needs a final editing.
Congressman Tom Lantos already has written the introduction to the book. In addition to the black-and-white photos and the introduction the book will also include two essays, one written by an author from Saint Petersburg and the other one, by an author from San Francisco. The first essay will be written by Samuil Lurie, one of the major modern Russian authors. The second essay will be written by Herbert Gold, a distinguished American writer, author of many novels, books of essays, and short stories.
List of Portrait
1. Lawrence Ferlinghetti, poet
2. Milton Friedman, economist, Nobel PrizeLaureate
3. Steve Bernzweig, framer
4. Alexander Barantschik, SF Symphony Orchestra concertmaster
5. Graig Newmark, computer programmer, founder of community
listing site Graiglist
6. Cecil Williams, pastor
7. John Papadopoulos, shoemaker
8. Ruth Bernhard, photographer
9. Herbert Gold, novrllist, journalist
10. Margo St. James, founder of COYOTE, 1st prostitutes
organisation in USA
11. Sean Penn, film actor and director
12. Jannette Etheredge, restaurateur
13. Michael Krasny, radio journalist
14. Linda Klee, assistant district attorney
15. Lillian Lum, family nurse practitioner
16. Kevin Guan, dry cleaner
17. Ray Dolby, inventor of The Dolby system
18. Willie Bray, postal worker
19. Martha Arroyo-Neves, librarian
20. George Gund, businessman
21. Harry Parker, former director of San Francisco Fine Art Museum
22. Nima Grissom, surgeon
23. Nancy Pelosi, congresswomen
24. Phil Bronstein, San Francisco Chronicle executive editor
25. Alene Guion, school teacher
26. Michael Bishop, biologists, Nobel Prize Laureate,
Chancellor of UCSF
1. Nina Ivanova, school teacher
2. Vladimir Egorov, commercial vehicle driver
3. Tatiana Smurova, computer programmer
4. Vladimir Retsepter, theatre actor and director, poet, novelist
5. Natalia Tsiganskaia, postal worker
6. Samuil Lurie, literary critic, author
7. Alexey Herman, film director
8. Anatoly Barzakh, senior researcher of the High Energy
Physics Department of the Petersburg Nuclear Physics
Institute and simultaneously chief editor of the literary
9. Vadim Isaev, shoemaker
10. Uriy Alexandrov, book designer
11. Alexander Semionov, colonel, military commissar
12. Andrey Leshjnski, businessman
13. Alisa Fraindlikh, actress
14. Vladimir Yakovlev, Governor of St. Petersburg
15. Elena Aseeva, medical doctor
16. Yuri Ershov, retard field geologist
17. Veniamin Novik, priest
18. Svetlana Poliasheva, hairdresser
19. Alexander Korneenok, radio engineer
20. Alexander Sokurov, film director
21. Alexander Kushner, poet
22. Natalia Khnikina, militia captain
23. Yuri Chechkov, salesperson
24. Zhores Alferov, physicist, Nobel Prize Laureate,
member of the State Duma
25. Mikhail Piotrovsky, director of the State Hermitage
26. Boris Strugatsky, novelist