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Wonderland: A Fairytale of the Soviet Monolith 

When: Aug. 28-Jan. 5 2008

When the Soviet Union first began to dissolve in the early '90s, American photographer Jason Eskenazi rushed in, camera in hand, to witness the enormous changes as well as the small, overlooked ones. The biggest social experiment of the 20th century was collapsing, everyone in all the former SovietSocialistRepublics was affected, and the rest of the world anxiously held its breath.

Eskenazi's new photography book, Wonderland, doesn't spend much time with the Yeltsins and the Putins. When he took up residence in Russia, the Queens native gravitated to the villages, housing projects, cemeteries, shops, faded "socialist palace" hotels, and ports of the vast motherland to glimpse what life was like for the workers and peasants, the original hammer-and-sickle folks. If the images in the book are any indication (its subtitle, A Fairytale of the Soviet Monolith, is an ironic reference to Stalin), the mood of Russia in those early post-Soviet days was a complex combination of bewilderment, hope, trepidation, and the lingering suspicion that very little had changed since 1917, after all. Certainly for the sailors and their girlfriends playing around in a small boat in one of Eskenazi's shots, what mattered was the here and now, not the sweep of history.

Eskenazi's "Wonderland" exhibition of his black-and-white Russian photos is now open at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism in North Gate Hall, where on September 27, the photographer will sign books, followed by a lecture. The show runs through January 5.

— Kelly Vance


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