no recipe · on USSR / Russia · St Petersburg

Experimenting with Black and White: Smena Film Camera

Smena Black and White

Experimenting with the Soviet black and white Smena 8M camera that was given to my Mother as a present when she was still at school, in 1973 – her first photo camera. That was a popular and inexpensive model for beginners manufactured at the famous LOMO factory in Leningrad – well now you would rather call it a mind-boggling challenge! First and foremost, finding a black and white film was not that very easy, I managed to find only one type and it was quite pricey for an experiment. So I knew the price of every shot 🙂 Although that was not my first encounter with film cameras (I started with Zenith back in the early 2000s), Smena really is a Soviet austerity thing. The trick with this camera is that it is so basic that you can’t focus. Nope. No zooming, nothing, just your reckoning of how far the object is from you (which I’m pretty bad at!). And you can’t even fully get an idea of what will be in your picture once it’s developed either. I mean the thing you see in the finder when making the photo is not all what you get as a result. There are also those icons for the weather conditions that you need to choose from – I think I’ve made a mess with them every time, not mentioning the shutter speed that you have to determine yourself too. Add to this absence of a cap for the lens and a very stiff cover… Also when I had my film developed (which you don’t normally do these days, do you?) it turned out that most of the 36 shots were gone… I mean most of the film was just blank. I dunno if that’s due to the camera or to some error during the developing process but the thing is, I lost all the earlier photos that I did in January, February and March… So I’m left with the shots from early April till mid May 2018. By the way, I’ve deliberately kept the borders on the scanned photos (thanks to my Dad!) so that they have a more authentic feel (read: too lazy!).

Smena Black and White

The first shot that was more or less full (see a black stripe above) and the next one were taken in Tsarskoye Selo on a morning in early April, during the Easter week. That’s the church (below) and the wooden dormitories that I’ve already described in one of my previous posts. I was drawn by the interplay of the shadows and the bright sun on the walls but had no idea how it would look like in a black and white version.

Smena Black and White

A week later in April we took an evening walk in the Aleksandrovsky Park of Tsarskoye Selo. Again I was attracted by the shadows and the perspective of the tree alley. I had to consult my Mother as to what numbers / icons to choose. Absolutely no idea how people’s minds worked back then when everything was not automatically set! 🙂

Smena Black and White

Next day at our dacha, trying to capture the warm evening sun of spring:

Smena Black and White

Late April – some shots taken while walking along Moyka river from – roughly – the Palace Square to Tavrichesky Garden in St Petersburg. The beginning of the active tourist season… I was not sure whether the camera would focus on the river or the lamp post…

Smena Black and White

Trying to get that graphic repetition of the (shadow) pattern:

Smena Black and White

Here I was not sure wether the lamp would fit or not but I was more interested in the swirl:

Smena Black and White

Early May on the Palace Square, before getting my price for a Russian language competition 🙂

Smena Black and White

The sky was so dramatic, the wind was tough, I couldn’t hold myself from making another shot:

Smena Black and White

And this is mid May when the weather suddenly turned to very autumn-like rather than spring-time. We took a very fast walk in Pavlovsk, near the Mariental Castle (aka BIP), see the very first photo of the post for yet another take on it:

Smena Black and White

Obviously tried to get more of the reflection rather than of the castle itself:

Smena Black and White

And I think this is by far the best shot – a tiny bit of decadence:

Smena Black and White

After all, I liked the challenge. Some of the photos did remind me of those I took years ago when I borrowed Zenith camera from my parents – but that was a colour film camera and much more user-friendly. With Smena I think for a moment I did get that feeling back when with every shot you make you realize that that was probably it – or nothing. You can’t take a hundred and then choose the best one with this camera, you can’t have a preview, you can’t see the result immediately, you just – well, you just ‘fire’ that thing and wait to see! Perfectly old-fashioned.

G.

no recipe · on USSR / Russia · St Petersburg

Spring Memories 2018

Spring at Dacha

I’ve spent quite a lot of time at our dacha this spring – and later summer. And I guess I have to be pay my dues to the job I’ve been doing for almost a year now which allows me to work from any location and almost any point during the day. Thanks to that I’ve also travelled to new places since I don’t necessarily have to stay at home.

Spring at Dacha

But at the same time too much is done on the computer which leaves me with no desire to use it any more after I’m done with the task for the day. So even if I have a desire to write to my blog, it’s not enough to actually do it. Which also made me ponder on the whole idea itself – whether I really need this blog etc etc. Ok, no more of this, let’s just leave some spring 2018 memories here.

Spring at Dacha

The first photos are from April when there’s such an awakening around you, such a joy inside you that cannot compare with any other season I guess. I love the interplay of the seemingly dead / sleeping nature and the subtle but obviously very sturdy and vigorous new life.

Spring at Dacha

It’s so fast this in-between season – I mean, between the winter and the full-on summer that you’d better open your eyes before it’s all gone.

Spring at Dacha

This spring gave us a marvelous May which was in a way warmer and nicer than most of the previous summers. And it was also made pretty clear to us that we were to face yet another apple year, a very prolific one though the apples I’m afraid were record sour which made them almost inedible for those with a weak stomach.

Apple Trees in Blossom

We’re still dealing with the apple harvest and I can only occasionally make something non-apple in terms of desserts since we have so many of them and everyone around seem to be having the same problem so there’s just no way of getting rid of them by giving away.

Apple Trees in Blossom

During winter I had some thoughts of going back to Crimea to get some proper spring experience just like I did in 2016 but then I realized I’d be better off at our dacha just enjoying life and nature in a sort of a seclusion that a 0.6 ha plot can give you. While making my strolls along and across the multiple dacha cooperatives that stretch for kilometers along the New Ladoga Canal (which in its turn runs along the Ladoga Lake shore), I met quite a few people who were also enjoying their dacha life in many ways though not all of their lifestyles were so to speak healthy. I guess that the relative remoteness from the city (about 50 km) and a more relaxed and village-like atmosphere means vodka will never lose its popularity in these places.

Apple Trees in Blossom

I’m definitely not a village person, I mean if I were to choose, I would definitely love to live in the country but then I’m absolutely hopeless with all the hard work it entails. And I can only drink my milk already pasteurized and devoid of all the (too) natural aromas, if you know what I mean. But I’m not a city person either which makes dacha a nice sort of compromise in between. Russians love their dacha for a variety of reasons, mine is very personal cause I’ve been spending there most of my summers since my very first one. I’m grateful for those Soviets who had the idea of granting plots to their people. And I’m really thankful for my grandparents who courageously undertook such a hard task to develop a plot from virtually nothing (ex-forest) to such a cozy place. Even a 9’C day somewhere in the middle of July can’t spoil it.

Apple Trees in Blossom

I can brag on for ages, you know. Need to save my enthusiasm for the rest of the backlog of various posts that I keep postponing for ages.

P.S. Pictured above is the famous Cobalt Net tea pot from a porcelain set very popular in the 1960s. The pattern itself was created even before the end of the war by an artist working at the Lomonosov Porcelain Factory during the Siege of Leningrad.  I’m no fan of porcelain but this one is such an iconic pattern that it’s somehow ‘by default’ included in our inner cultural canon.

G.

architecture · no recipe · on USSR / Russia · St Petersburg · travel

Spring and (More) Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo (spring)

Tsarksoye Selo to the south of St Petersburg is a treasure trove of yet undiscovered Art Nouveau architecture. Here, a bit out of the eye of the St Petersburg experts and activists in architectural conservation, some of the beauties have disappeared without a trace over the years. But luckily some of them are left as is and some are even gradually renovated. In continuation to my last year’s spring-time and autumnal walks in the Art Nouveau realm of Tsarksoye Selo, here we go.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo (spring)

I think spring and autumn with their rusty colours of the nature, with their true warm light (as opposed to the ‘through’ hot light of summer) just bring out the best in Art Nouveau, they are the best seasons for spotting architecture in general – not much leaves on the trees to obstruct the buildings and no (or little) snow to cover the details. We did this walk back in the surprisingly warm early April (after which there was such a setback – raining and all that). Our first stop was at the now State Museum Tsarskoye Selo Collection (apparently – of the 1930s Leningrad art). But it used to be one of those mansions for just one family built right in the center of the city by the architect from the capital (i.e. St Petersburg then) von Goli in 1909.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo (spring)

Regardless of its pink painted walls, this mansion bears the signs of the so called Northern Modern style, the one which evolved in St Petersburg but was inspired by the Finnish Romantic style as well as the Scandinavian spirit in general.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo (spring)

Hence all the fortress-like reminiscence, such as the windows, portals and stone.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo (spring)

But the mansions’ signature details is this tower rather menacingly hanging over passers-by. To my mind they even left the entrance right underneath is in disuse because of that.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo (spring)

Curious ‘lid’ above the balcony:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo (spring)

There is not much known about the previous history of this cute little mansion. I will one day go inside since there’s also a workshop at the ground level. I wonder whether it sunk down quite a bit over the century or was meant to be that low.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo (spring)

The wall on the other side which were in the shadow that morning are less… feminine, more laconic as there are no such doors or balconies, just a wall pierced by the windows.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo (spring)
Our next stop was not actually planned as I used to consider these buildings long gone and didn’t bother to check (I read about them in the book on the Art Nouveau architecture in St Pete). But since they were just some meters away from the pink mansion we bumped into them by chance, so to say.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo (spring)

It was Sunday and Easter Sunday, so people were already gathering outside the church waiting for the priest to sprinkle that holy whatever on their traditional (and not so much) kulich and died eggs and whatnot.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo (spring)

I was drawn by the pseudo-Russian style of the church which was also lit by the warm sun to its advantage. There’s something to its volumes and features that makes you think of the very old Russian churches (which was obviously meant) but there’s also something from the Art Nouveau aesthetics which is so appealing.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo (spring)

This a ‘home’ church meaning that it was built into a building, actually into a charity organization for the Russian Red Cross nurses who lived here and worked in the hospitals of the city, the whole thing being backed by the emperor’s wife herself, Alexandra (i.e. the last Russian emperor Nicholas II’s wife). And it was designed by the emperor’s own architect with a charming Italian name of Silvio Danini. I’ve already investigated into some of his creations scattered all over Tsarskoye Selo but no to this one.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo (spring)

As with the prototype – the first Russian churches – the rounded volumes are clearly the best:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo (spring)

The history of this church during the Soviet era is pretty much similar to those churches which survived and were not taken down (this could happen not just in the 1920-30s but well into the 60s as well – sadly). They were mostly deprived of their distinguishing features (i.e. bell towers, cupolas, of course all the interior etc) and transformed into everything from cinema halls to driving schools to bread baking plants.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo (spring)

This one was used – again – to the benefit of the society, as a part of the sanatorium for the TB kids. All the icons got painted over, regardless of them being designed by the famous Viktor Vasnetsov. The 1912-1914 church then got transformed into a show room in the 1990s and was handed over to the church officials back only in 2006. And the renovation started finally which can only rejoice me. What a unique show room (they say of… doors!):

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo (spring)

The rest of the building has not been renovated and looks pretty sad. Though again I loved the volumes:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo (spring)

Right next to the brick church is this big wooden house pretty much in the style of the very first pre-Art Nouveau English-cottage-style creations by the prolific Danini (1896-1897). It is in a poorer state than the adjacent church:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo (spring)

This was originally built as the Nurses’ dormitory and clinic, but later became a Soviet kids’ TB sanatorium (the ‘new’ 1980 Brutalist style facilities are right next door). It is older than the church (1907-08) and is right next to another charity organization (which I failed to see this time) again built by the same Danini some years earlier.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo (spring)

Now it’s some sort of something, no sign there but they say it will be handed over to the adjacent church some time soon.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo (spring)

I hope it will be renovated. This could be a nice Sunday school or something, with its large windows. Although I doubt it will be restored as such. Real estate in Tsarskoye Selo is ridiculously overpriced…

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo (spring)

It does look like a wooden dacha (summer cottage). I can imagine drinking tea from samovar sitting on the verandah:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo (spring)

I tried to capture these interplay of shadows that day with my mother’s first LOMO Smena photo camera, loaded with a black and white film. Still have some 10 shots to go before I can develop the film and find out whether it is actually still working. I adore black & white photos, its aesthetics, its graphic lines and atmosphere but still have to master it.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo (spring)

The snow is already gone now but I’d love this early spring period to linger…

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo (spring)

Our last stop was actually in the neaby Pavlovsk, yet another royal-park-residence environ which is just a railway station away from Tsarskoye Selo. But this dacha is stuck somewhere in between wooden houses and posh ‘villas’, not where you would normally go to in brief.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo (spring)

This used to be a private dacha of the architect who built among others the Faberge store in St Petersburg, Karl Shmidt. Built in 1902-1903, they say it used to be painted white with green, blue and red details, but I like its current earthy colours as well. Not sure about what’s inside, they say it’s occupied by the Pavlovsk park administration.

For the autumnal part of my Art Nouveau walks see this post. For my last year’s Art Nouveau walk, see this post.

Adding this post to the St Petersburg collection.

G.

architecture · no recipe · on USSR / Russia · St Petersburg

Wintry Icy St Petersburg

Wintry St Pete

Here’s some severe beauty of the frosty St Petersburg – before it all melted away. No ‘winter wonderland’ for this New Year’s eve, I’m afraid.

Wintry St Pete

An icy hello from the Ladoga lake which it sends to the city via Neva river once in a while.

Wintry St Pete

The ‘rotundas’ on the Palace Bridge are there as festive decorations.

Wintry St Pete

And a view back:

Wintry St Pete

The entire city looked like this that day: as if someone sprayed it all with fake snow.

Wintry St Pete

Oh, look, there’s sun in St Petersburg, hurry up before it’s gone!

Wintry St Pete

Icy sky hues:

Wintry St Pete

And a photo from a bit earlier – the illuminated Peter and Paul Fortress:

Wintry St Pete

Adding this post to the St Petersburg series.

G.

architecture · no recipe · on USSR / Russia · St Petersburg

Bolsheohtinsky aka Peter the Great Bridge

Bolsheohtinsky Bridge

This summer inspired by the excursion to the Vitebsky railway station where we learned quite a bit about the technologies of the early 20th century, I made a walk in the center of the city up to the Bolsheokhtinsky aka Peter the Great Bridge. It belongs to the same period and uses the same construction method which at that time was considered quite revolutionary.

Bolsheohtinsky Bridge

On my way to the Bridge there were a few unavoidable stops as you just can’t resist pulling your camera out and making some photos. Above – a neo-baroque late 19th century green eye-catcher that looks pretty well in a combination with a brightly painted red ex-gymnasium building just a few meters away from it. And here’s a late Art Nouveau building (or rather ‘Northern Modern’ as it is called in Russia) that I used to pass by every day heading towards one of my jobs. It is in a very poor state now but it was supposed to look like a fortress or a castle, with its impressive walls and stonework at the ground floor level.

Bolsheohtinsky Bridge

Built in 1911-12 this residential house still preserves its original windows and judging from the photographs taken in its inner courtyard and inside it has not yet lost some of those details that would help create the Medieval atmosphere around it.

Bolsheohtinsky Bridge

St Pete’s backstage:

Bolsheohtinsky Bridge

And now on to the Bridge that connected a – then – suburb Okhta (hence the first name) with the center of the city. As with a couple of other bridges in St Petersburg (like Troitsky linking the center to the Petrogradskaya side) its construction was not at all desired by those who provided transport services from one side of Neva river to the other. Those who did want the bridge to be built were the people who had to embark on a boat in order to commute.

Bolsheohtinsky Bridge

With its tons of metal all over the place Bolsheohtinsky Bridge does look pretty powerful and at the same time – so effortless in how it stretches from one side to the other in just three spans. The most often used adjective when describing this bridge in Russian is ‘azhurny‘, laced. The lighthouse-like towers hide the mechanisms that draws the central span inside them – and thanks to them this bridge resembles London’s Tower Bridge built in the late 19th century. Ironically Bolsheohtinsky Bridge did impersonate the famous bridge over Thames in the 1983 Sherlock Holmes series, the best by the way, – see how they turned Thames into Neva… or vice versa here :). This element here looks very Northern Modern, as if someone like Art Nouveau guru Robert Metlzer created this metal curve:

Bolsheohtinsky Bridge

The project that won the competition was developed and then fine-tuned by engineers, including Vladimir Apyshkov who created one of the Art Nouveau jewels, Chagin’s mansion, now a dental clinic. The legend has it that one of the clenches was made of pure gold but since all of the clenches are of the same colour – and there are more than a million of them – nobody has found it yet. Another interesting fact is that the bridge was constructed so well that it required some renovation only as late as 1970s. And yes, the second name of the bridge, which was abolished during the Soviet era, comes from the fact that it was laid down in 1909, exactly 200 years after Peter the Great won the Poltava battle, one of the decisive moments in the war with Sweden. The bridge opened to traffic in 1911.

Bolsheohtinsky Bridge

This photo is taken from the Okhta side of the Neva river. It has been so heavily Soviet-style urbanized that for me – probably yet – it doesn’t really seem attractive. Okhta, a right-had tributary of Neva, gave its name to the settlement that used to be a carpenters’ village from the early 18th century. It later grew into one of those industrial suburbs surrounding the city, with many factories and a shipyard. But it also became the place where the rest of the city would get its milk and dairy from – the full-bodied Okhta women would come to various districts of St Petersburg selling their fresh produce and thus making their living.

Adding this post to the St Petersburg series.

G.

architecture · no recipe · on USSR / Russia · St Petersburg

Winter Has Come

Winter Has Come

Winter has come. I would argue that this year it came on December 1st when I happened to cross the Neva going from Vasilyevsky to Petrogradsky island on an errand. November was uncommonly snowless and as the tradition goes, we were completely unprepared for the snow on the first day of calendar winter here in St Petersburg. Technically, that was not the first snow the city has experienced this season but it was the

Winter Has Come

Snow turns the city into an absolutely different place. As if by some true magic the streets, the embankments and the parks change their obviously outdated soaking wet garments into pristine white cloaks. The entire city is seized with this cold crystal-clear estrangement. You feel like walking on your toes not to disturb its sleep.

Winter Has Come

Well, hello winter!

Last year winter came in November abruptly burying us under snow and cutting off at least several weeks of late autumn. Hey and three years ago I celebrated the first snow with melt-in-your-mouth chocolate cookies already in October!

G.

St Petersburg

Steel Sky of St Petersburg in Two Shots

Steel Sky of St Petersburg

(here’s number one) This is a memory note for the once-in-a-lifetime-one-day-short-of-29-going-on-30 situation. Kind of thoughtful and a bit puzzled, I am. One doesn’t live that long, they – most(ly) jokingly – say in Russia (tak dolgo ne zhivut!). In fact, I’ve ben laughing quite a bit today – you just go mad if you don’t laugh it all off these days. And do it wholeheartedly, mind you, otherwise your laughter will only give away your being a nervous wreck (which you are not). And oh yes, here’s the notorious steel sky of St Petersburg in late November. Been enjoying it for years on end and it still send shivers down my spine every autumn!

Steel Sky of St Petersburg

(and here’s number two)

Playing in my ears – Director’s Cut by Kate Bush.

Reading – Mikhail Prishvin’s 1927 diary and the biography of – another – Mikhail Bulgakov.

More on the sky of St Petersburg here and here.

G.