Friday, February 12, 2010

WONDERLAND: A Fairy Tale of the Soviet Monolith by Jason Eskenazi

From time to time, Monkey Lounge will have guest bloggers. For this post, we have the musings of Mochi Mochi. Read below.

The chic for western photographers is as follows: go to japan and be wowed by the difference in culture. take photographs which are "amazing". The west is titillated and trades off of the mystique of Japan as "the other". This formula is all too familiar, and honestly it smacks of orientalism. Once the formula has been established, and in the case of Japan that was over 150 years ago, it becomes an easy thing to repeat. It's easy to make cool images in Japan because it's easy to aestheticize the Japanese culture. But repeating the work of others, and continuing or habituating colonialist patterns is not how great art gets made. So photographers, turn your lens somewhere else.That's what Jason Eskenazi did after growing up in Queens during the Regan era and hearing of an Evil Empire. Eskenazi, winner of a Guggenheim Fellowship, Fulbright Scholarship, Dorothea Lange Prize, Alicia Patterson Foundation Grant, turned his lens to the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. He spent much of the 1990s capturing the gritty aftermath of the fall of the former USSR. Rather than aestheticizing the experience, Eskenazi has documented the fracture and breakdown of a superpower in a deeply personal and moving way. Seeing the fall as a tragedy he approaches his subjects with empathy. Eskenazi spent years looking for a way to tell the story of Russian communism, he found the answer in the Russian love of the fairy tale - the fairy tale of communism.
Stringing photographs together in a meaningful sequence is the bane of the amateur, and the delight and challenge of the great photographer. Eskenazi used the outline of the classic fairy tale as a basis for his amazing book of tightly edited, evocative, and unsettling images: WONDERLAND: A Fairy Tale of the Soviet Monolith. While not following a strict narrative, Eskenazi starts in the place where many classic fairy tales begin: a child was abandon or lost a guardian, and is pushed into the world or the forest of uncertainty. This, his first book, won the 2008 Best Photography Book prize from Pictures of the Year International, and is now in its second printing (the first printing sold out completely.) I just ordered my personal copy of the second edition.
In the last 25 years you could have found Eskenazi working for Time or The Times in in Haiti, Afghanistan, Russia, Georgia, Ukraine or Dagestan. Currently you will find him working as a guard in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and exhibiting his work in galleries in New York City. Eskenazi heard the call of photo journalism during its hay-day, before the fall of the publishing and news empires. He wanted to use his lens and vision to change the world on a grand scale. Such idealism is hard to sustain against the tide of realities of the world. Eskenazi now works on grants and creates his own assignments, choosing to make images according to his own standards. He is now changing that same cruel world little bit by bit, one set of eyes at a time.
You can find his wonderful book and learn more at

Jason Eskenazi talks about Wonderland
and Title Nation
from Habitus A Diaspora Journal on

1 comment:

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Interesting article, added his blog to Favorites