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Portraits of the people of the Trans-Siberian Railway


The people of Siberia are startlingly diverse, at least according to Italian photographer Davide Monteleone’s ongoing project In the Russian East. Inspired by Richard Avedon’s 1985 book In the American West, Monteleone is taking portraits of the people who eke out hardscrabble lives along the route of the Trans-Siberian Railway, including Cossacks, indigenous Asian populations, and the Jews of the Jewish Autonomous Region. The New Yorker has published a selection of Monteleone’s haunting photographs on its website, with an introduction by Masha Gessen:

A work in progress, In the Russian East is thus far a collection of faces and uniforms. Some of the uniforms belong to the Cossacks, a self-styled but state-sanctioned army. Others are worn by military cadets. Their belt buckles feature the Soviet five-pointed star with a hammer and sickle inside: the design remained unchanged after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and now the corresponding spirit is back. Through Monteleone’s photographs, you can see the proximity and porousness of the Chinese border, you can see representatives of the numerous Asian indigenous populations and their Slavic colonizers, and you can even see the Jews of Birobidzhan. The picture fragments.

Above image: Kirill Rogov, a fisherman; Anuisky, Russia, August, 2014. Photo by Davide Monteleone.


Nobody seems to want to photograph Russian intellectuals or publish those images, I suppose its not exotic enough…


Its neither mainstream or marginal, it’s sort of subcanonical. I remember reading about how the revision of the literary canon from the 1970s on by feminist and postcolonial authors, which was intended to do away with the idea of canons, actually did something very different: it strengthened the existing canon, and sanctioned an anti-canon. What

What that means in practice is that academics read Shakespeare now more than ever before, and they also read Aphra Behn (important Restoration poet and playwright, possibly a Dutch double-agent, who wrote clever, commercial dirty things), but nobody reads Marlowe (one of Shakespeare’s primary influences) anymore.

I think Russian intellectuals stand in a similar relation to the mainstream of Western European/North American cultural thought—not quite as bookmarked as German intellectuals, but more known than Cossacks in Khabarovsk. Also, aren’t bookflap photos of intellectuals always a little strange? Like there should be any correlation between how one looks and how one thinks?