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Pete Glatter

Quick as a Flash

(March 2000)

From Socialist Review, No.239, March 2000.
Copyright © Socialist Review.
Downloaded with thanks from the Socialist Review Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Beyond the Fall: The Former Soviet Bloc in Transition 1989-1999
Royal Festival Hall

Anthony Suau is a photojournalist with a worldwide reputation. But the reasons for his fascination with the former Soviet bloc are not establishment ones:

‘I was born in the United States in 1956, and was indoctrinated to believe that the Soviet Union intended to destroy my country’s way of life and abolish its personal freedoms. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, Soviet children were being schooled to believe that the United States sought to corrupt their souls with the selfish ideology of capitalism. The two superpowers, having divided the world between themselves, constructed immense psychological barriers to mutual understanding and reconciliation.’

This is a time in which the savage Slav is once more being cast as a villainous violator of the Flash Gordon virtues of western democracy. So look at the other contrasts captured in these terrible and beautiful pictures. The sleek Russian elite with its murderous backstreet vendettas; the ragged Russian pensioner in his bare, narrow room ‘listening to his television as the picture does not work’; the first Chechen war of 1994-96 – a body crushed into the slush by a tank, a sniper and his mate sighting a rifle with the everyday air of building workers judging an angle. A relentless procession of frozen moments holds the scars and lacerations left by the jagged divides of today’s capitalist system from the centre of Europe to the far Siberian north.

I particularly liked the black stallion at the beginning of the exhibition escaping from human habitation as if chasing an elusive dream of feedom. And the gleaming cash machine, set with all the inappropriate gusto of commercialism amid empty noticeboards on a dilapidated wall in the Czech Republic.

But perhaps the most haunting images are those of the doomed children, playing in the polluted ice in the desolate Arctic city of Norilsk, or falling tenderly asleep in a pool of light in a Romanian slum.

The exhibition is an extraordinary cultural event in other ways too: not only artistically brilliant and politically acute, but – here in the heart of the capital city of New Labour’s corporate dream – open 12 hours a day, seven days a week and free. Such happenings are, of course, under threat. The Royal Festival Hall is phasing out all free exhibitions by the summer and is cutting other free events to the bone. This is, in fact, the last free photographic exhibition. You have little time to catch it, and make a loud complaint.

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