and try to guess where and when it was taken.
I showed it to some of my colleagues, and got answers like “Aarhus, 1970” and “Detroit, 1950’s”.
The answer is: Bucarest, 1941. The picture was taken by Willy Pragher (1908-1992), who was a German-Romanian photographer. Recently an exhibition of his photography “Brechungen” was touring across Europe, and I had a chance to visit it in December (yeah, I was the only one who came that day. And by the surprised look of the lady at the reception, I might have been the only visitor during the entire week).
Pragher captures the burgeoning industrialization and urbanization in the capital city of Romania along with the agricultural life on the countryside. Heavy industry such as oil processing, steel mills, smelters and mining are contrasted with the rural existence. The concept by itself may sound trivial, yet this exhibition covers the late 20’s and early 40’s of Romania, and is today accepted as a significant contribution to the country’s photographic treasury. Pictures themselves are categorized in the post-expressionistic “Neue Sachlichkeit” genre, and generally try to reflect contemporary views without imposing any opinion on them - that is something I fancy.
But, what hit me, was feeling of imagining what the (by then) prosperous country could potentially have been today if it was not by the disaster of the Second World War and the succeeding communist era - later ruled by the mad dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. There was a reason why Bucharest was called “the Paris of Eastern Europe” - before Ceausescu started to pull down the city so he could spell his name with precast concrete slabs.
Even the 1989 “revolution” (or some may say coup d’etat) helped little, as the new government was constituted of former apparatchiks, leaving a corrupt system and a disillusioned population behind.
The same feeling explained above occasionally overcomes me when I view old photographs of eastern Europe. Worth mentioning is the rather timeless and pioneering experimental movie Человек с киноаппаратом “Man with a movie camera” by the famous director Dziga Vertov. It is a B/W silent film, but a few years ago the British band “Cinematic Orchestra” added some great music to it, making the movie even more enjoyable. Here is my favourite excerpt ("The Awakening of a Woman"):
Most of the move was filmed in (thriving and socialistic) Odessa during 1929. The full one-hour movie can be viewed here, and is certainly worth watching.