5.25.2012

The Image: Simon Crofts

© Simon Crofts, untitled, 2012

Simon Crofts: This is an image from my "In the Land of Endless Expectation" series about Ukraine, Belarus and Russia – the Slav heartlands of the former Soviet Union. Larissa is a former communications engineer living in Ukraine, who now finds work when and where she can as a patent agent. She is a kind of representative of that large class of intelligentsia, for which the former Soviet Union is so famous (the word itself comes from Russian). She is also my ex-mother-in-law, but we maintained a good friendship. Which may seem odd, but one of the things that draws me to the place is that things that seem odd elsewhere seem normal there.

One thing that struck me as a common thread in Russian / Ukrainian history - whether it was standing in queues in Soviet times, or in literature, or just waiting for life to improve in modern capitalist times, was this sense of expectation, of waiting, of endless patience. Larissa was a perfect example of that. The poet Yevtushenko wrote about the endurance of Russian women in a poem "In the Store," which was put to music by Shostakovitch in his 13th symphony. Listening to that symphony, and pretty much everything else Shostakovitch wrote, was one of the reasons why I moved to Russia in the first place, back in 1993.

I wanted to provide this intimate, personal view of Ukraine and Russia. A foreigner looks at the place as an outsider, and often understands little. Russians often think that foreigners simply can't understand them - that you have to be Russian to get it. Churchill famously summed it up with his description of Russia as "a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma."

But having devoted so much of my life to the place one way or another - I lived in Russia during the wild nineties throughout the most painful and exciting period of economic transformation, I taught myself to speak Russian, and generally obsessed with the place ever since I heard Shostakovitch as a kid, I thought that I saw the country neither as a Russian, nor as a Ukrainian, nor as a foreigner, but with my own point of view. Sometimes I thought I could understand or see things about the place that even a local couldn't – either because they were too close to it, or it had crept up on them gradually, or simply because my experience was different from theirs. And I knew that I had to show what I saw, so the result was these pictures, which did not have a strict agenda or message, but which recorded what I felt was personally important, whether it was a chance meeting with a total stranger, or someone I knew well like Larissa.