In Chelyabinsk (that’s a city in Southern Ural in Russia) they are celebrating John Lennon’s 71st birthday on October 10. Paul McCartney is tying the knot this weekend with his fiancee, Nancy. And now that I’ve recovered access to my computer, I want to share one of the two posts about a wonderful man I came to meet in Moscow. I think some of you might even know him. His name is Charles, he’s American, and has for years been practising chiropractic. Charles has been living in Moscow since 1992, and previously lived in the Arabic part of Israel; as a result, he speaks Russian, Arabic, and his native English.
Chuck & The Dirty Dog, Moscow, July 2011
He was born under the sign of Aquarius, so this already may have to do with how and what shaped his outlook. I’ve met him twice, once to attend his rehearsal, another time to do the interview, and both times I felt immensely happy to have known the person who loves what he’s doing. He loves to help people; and when he’s tired, he loves to sing. He occasionally performs with his band, and the point is that unlike many of us he ENJOYS himself. He doesn’t walk the streets with lofty ideas, neither does he winge about sitting in the office doing the job he hates. He was lucky to have found the occupation that he wanted to dedicate himself to early on in life, and then he relenltlessly pursued it.
Anyway, because this is the time for music, here are two recordings, a video on YouTube found by Vassily, and my edited extracts from Charles’s rehearsal. Charles performs as Chuck, accompanied by The Dirty Dog band. Photographs are by Kirill Kuzmin.
As part of Bloggers’ Portrait project, I and a few bloggers/colleagues/friends have recently had a conversation with a Russian author, blogger and an avid Twitterer, Vadim Ivanov. Born in January 1965 into a Russian family in Kazan (Republic of Tatarstan), Vadim has always loved Moscow and longed to come to live here. His dream finally seems to have come true, whereby we were all able to meet him, ask a few questions, and take a few photos.
Aloof and unassuming, Vadim arrived to his citizen journalist press-conference with his favourite smoking pipe. What followed was an hour-long conversation on all subjects, from literature and the author’s responsibility for his work (from me), national problems (from Oleg at chuma3.livejournal.com), and youth upbringing and hopes for the future (from Kirill at kirill-kuzmin.livejournal.com). More questions were subsequently asked by Mikhail (shok_darvina.livejournal.com) and Vassily (motyletsve.livejournal.com).
For the Russian day and age, Vadim is certainly a curious figure. Not striving to be published (although he admits he’d love to see his grotesque novel in print – for no other reason but the impressive unity of text and illustration). Very public, yet sometimes only sharing thoughts and emotions with a selected few. A blogger since 2006, he had to significantly change his style, to accommodate the short attention span and the intellect of an average web user. The result was a more laconic, more versatile manner that has now made Vadim a successul dispenser of aphorisms on Twitter. Unlike most of us, not only does he manage to fit his thoughts into 140 characters, he also does so 400 times a day.
Most importantly, as the author Vadim is preoccupied with such topics as loneliness and solitude and love. In a way, both topics must be a reflection of his experience of growing up and living in the country where the Russians were an ethnic category. His childhood was marked by fights for indepence and dignity; and his older years were the time when Tatarstan very nearly broke off from Russia, of which it is a part. Even for his avatar in LiveJournal blog Vadim chose an image of a wolf – an animal he describes as “noble”. In spite of those experiences, they seem to be making little way into Ivanov’s work. A lot of it is written in the genre of a tale, some very reminiscent of H. K. Andersen’s narrative style; others are more down-to-earth stories about modern-day Russia. Yet there is still barely any trace of those “global” problems, like nationalism. Instead there is a theme of longing – for a friend, for a soulmate, for love. For an antidote to loneliness, in effect.
“Very often”, he explains about love, “people pursue their own egotistical ends, when declaring love. Love is unconditional, it is the ability to just give your all to someone you love. But more often than not you can hear: “I love him/her so much, why do they not see me?” This is a typical selfish response”. And yet he does not have the answer, how to change the state of things. What he does, standing in a silent corner of a Moscow street, is giving a short talk about loving the person for what they are, not for what they may give you.
Which reminds one of Erich Fromm: “An immature love says, “I love you because I need you”. A mature love says, “I need you because I love you””.
From the onset a web-based project by the Russian photographer Kirill Kuzmin has been attracting a lot of attention from bloggers and readers alike. The aim of the project, artistically titled Bloggers’ Portraits in Black and White, is to discover and showcase the best talents of the Russian blogosphere, going beyond the so-called “top bloggers”.
To acknowledge the importance of the project, one needs to understand the peculiarity in how blogging and Social Media have been developing in Russia in the last 5 years. In the English-speaking part of the planet Google and Facebook are unquestionable leaders, but for the sake of fair play Yahoo!, Bing, Twitter, and the like still have their word to say, as well. This is especially true for blogging: WordPress may be the most popular or most recommended platform, but TypePad, Blogger, Twitter, Posterous, and Tumblr have their share of happy users.
Turn to Russia, and you will find a single most popular search engine – Yandex, and a single most popular blogging platform – LiveJournal. It does not mean that there are no Russians who use Google or WordPress. However, if we consider building a community as an overall important trait of Social Media, blogging included, then it makes every sense to have an account where every other Russian has – with LiveJournal, that is.
The rub is that Google AdSense (and its copycat, Yandex Direct) has lost a bit of its glamour, but the idea of monetising blogging has proved massively popular. So popular, in fact, that the above mentioned “top bloggers” often write for cash. It may be a payment for a post, or a payment to rise to the top in Yandex’s listings. If they do not write for cash, they blog on the subjects that always attract a lot of comments: models’ looks (fat/thin, make-up/no make-up), relationships, sex (including specific body parts), politics, certain personalities from Arts and Culture sphere, etc. Whatever takes the author to the top goes, in short. Sadly, as a result a lot of worthwhile, interesting blogs written by expert authors rarely show up in the Top 10.
The project originated exactly from the disappointment with such state of things. Bloggers who were interviewed and photographed included a ballet expert, an icon painter, a professional cello player, an intrepid citizen journalist, psychologists, cooks, fellow photographers, writers, and even an expert in playing cards.
This is not the first time Kuzmin attempted to defy the perceptions and to show the ‘human’ face of an otherwise alien phenomenon. On one of the previous occasions he spoke to and photographed the so-called Gaestarbeitern – workers from the former Soviet Republics who come to Moscow to earn money to support their families and whom Muscovites themselves often despise. In Bloggers’ Portraits, he deftly deploys photographing techniques to capture intimate, unexpected face expressions and gestures. In doing so, he brings out a person’s true self: a contemplative in one, an eccentric in another, a passionate in the third.
Bloggers’ Portraits by Kirill Kuzmin arrives to a more or less the same point as Mario Cacciottolo’s Someone Once Told Me project. While in the second we get to see a particular phrase that may or may not have shaped a person’s life, in the first we do not always hear the phrase but we do see the person as he or she were shaped. And here the ability of the black-and-white film, with its emphasis on light and shadow, to reveal the hidden gems and corners stands unrivalled. The ballet critic, although a buxom lady, reveals grace in her posture; a man and wife, both journalists, brim with tenderness and mischief; an icon painter agrees to play with her long black hair; another journalist poses as a gullible tourist, complete with a Polaroid in his hands; and a female writer agrees to pose with a whip.
We thus get to see the face of the Russian blogosphere as it is likely to be: not the confident, professional smiles of “top bloggers”, but the more modest and more open physiognomies of the less prolific, or less popular, yet no less expert guys and gals. Bloggers’ Portraits may one day acquire a place at the gallery, but so far you can see those who make the difference on the Russian blogging scene online.
(Although the project is presently in Russian, you can already enjoy the photos).
I was pleasantly surprised to discover the project by the Moscow photographer Kirill Kuzmin – Bloggers’ Portraits in Black and White. The project that has started a few months ago aims at creating a classic photogallery of Russian bloggers. Those who have already taken part range from a cello player through an icon painter and personal shopper to a ballet reviewer.
(Incidentally, I don’t think there are many cello players, icon painters and ballet maniacs in the West who have discovered blogging… still).
According to our agreement, I will be posting short interviews with some of the participants, which will be not a small task considering that I have to edit and translate, too. The first post, however, is dedicated to Kirill himself, and below is our short chat in Russian.
Although he was working as a designer and illustrator for a magazine for a long time, Kirill has only started taking photography seriously in 2001. He found inspiration in the work of the father Nikolai, a friar at the Optina Monastery. Later on he also took inspiration from the work of Laslo Gabany (an incredibly successful wedding photographer as well as a lovely person), Mikhail Kalamkarov (one of the masters of contemporary pictorial photography), and Alexander Slyusarev (a legendary Russian photographer). His favourite genre is portraiture. I asked him if he liked introducing certain metaphorical objects: for instance, I love snapping streetlights, a friend of mine is mad about angels, another friend is equally mesmerised by doors of all sizes and colours. As far as Kirill is concerned, there is nothing more fleeting and interesting for a photographer than a human nature. I dare say the galleries that have already been completed prove the point.
Russian blogosphere develops primarily via LiveJournal and LiveInternet as platforms, and this partially explains why the culture of commenting is possibly slightly more widespread than in the West. This is especially true of the author’s responses; whether you are a mere personal blogger or a celebrity publisher, you respond to comments. Certain LJs regularly develop discussions and even disputes through comments. The range of topics is, frankly, overwhelming, as well as the ranks of personalities. Blogging has been incredibly popular among politicians, journalists, (wo)men-of-arts even before Ashton Kutcher assembled his stupendous Twitter following. Having said so, the topic of privacy should make a curious subject for discussion, while HRs are still to wake up to the Euro-American practice of checking out an employee’s social networking life before offering them a job. There is a cliche in my homeland that “Russia is ahead of the whole planet“, and it seems that this is true about blogging, as well – even though the readership may be primarily Russian, too.