David Hlynsky shot 8,000 Hasselblad images on the streets of Communist Europe from 1986 to 1990, doggedly recording the banality of the Soviet Bloc. Primarily store windows, the photos illustrate cityscapes “devoid of the trumped up and pumped up urgency” of the West. (Above: Military shirts, Moscow 1990)
I Shop, Hlynsky’s featured exhibition in the Contact Photography Festival, documents the mundane street life of Russia, Bulgaria, Poland and other regions as the Soviet bloc disintegrated. (Milk, Moscow 1990)
As it happens, the East collapsed not because it was “evil” but because its own marketplace of ideas and things finally ran out of promise. Eastern windows are already filling with the Western simulacrum… a new utopia built out of flash and seduction –Artist Statement (Canned fish, Moscow)
“If we believe only the propaganda produced by Washington, Hollywood, and Moscow, the Cold War was a battle over fundamental freedoms and the rational distribution of wealth,” the exhibition notes explain. “In Hlynsky’s view, the battle was also about differing versions of our human connection to the material world.” (Nightgowns, Prague)
Hlynsky also took aim at pedestrians, including this construction worker, photographed in Budapest just before the visit of U.S. President George Bush in 1989. (Below: Picking grape leaves, Bulgaria, 1989)
(Above: Subway map, Moscow / Below: Zippers, Bulgaria)
The East Bloc windows I photographed were far from bankrupt. Yes, they were unpretentious, naive and seemed ironic. But they also contained an inventory of our most common human needs. –Hlynsky
David Hlynsky grew up in Ohio, had Canadian relatives, and moved to Toronto in 1970 to take a job with Coach House Press. There, he worked as a designer, darkroom technician, layout artist, typesetter and editor with colleagues that included Canadian writers Michael Ondaatje and bp Nichol. Read more about his trajectory through holography, performance art, teaching and the rest on his biography, here.
David Hlynsky’s website, here.
Those pictures certainly made me think. Seeing the construction worker with an American flag shirt was certainly bizarre.
Agree. I thought his project was so creative.
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Definitely. A lot of effort and storytelling was put into it.
Thought provoking…interesting view…very different than the one I possess(ed) of the Soviet Bloc during that time period. Thanks. I enjoyed this.
Always so interesting to see someone else’s interpretation of something you’ve experienced. Thanks for the comment.
Superb post ,awesome pictures.jalal
Glad you enjoyed it.
Wow! That sounds like quite the trip in 2008! The windows were gone, but I’m sure you got an eyeful!
What I remember most vividly of the Soviet leftovers were the huge, steel obelisk-style statues representing power and authority. Very scary. There was graffiti all over them by the time we were there.
A great look at something I’ve always only heard about, a past reality I never got to see. How wonderful that David Hlynsky documented this.
Your point about a documented past reality is a good one. I went through five eastern bloc countries in 2008 and although there were vestiges of full-on Soviet life, the scramble to Westernize was overwhelming. I didn’t see many streetscapes like this. So you’re right, most of us would never have had this glimpse, except for Hlynsky.
hello, Canadian Art Junkie… insightful and the combination of colors look easy on the eyes. like the lady sitting and the pic of the clocks… 🙂 warm regards ~ San
Yes indeed, the way he shot was very informed and the end result was – almost – soothing.
i love the minimalist, geometric lines to the displays.
the Canned Fish window really stands out to me.
love the red font with the scrolled wooden backdrop.
& the kids holding what looks like a globe in Subway Map.
as though the residents of Moscow are made to view
their city as the world in its entirety. it`s 2-D but pretty neat
how they used real boots peeking out at the bottom as the kids` feet!
Hlynsky himself sounds like a very accomplished artist!
That’s so true about the minimalism in the windows, and I’m with you on the cans of fish. That was one of my favorites. Thanks for your observations, interesting as always.
These are fascinating…
Glad you found them so.