Faces of the Soviet Union in Norwich: Goodwin's Art

Toddler on Arbat Street, Moscow

Russia. Ukraine. Trump's bromance with Putin. The Soviet Union as a political construct is over, but its former republics are still very much in the news. Some of us know little about its people, either then (USSR) or now (several former SSRs). Photographer Seth Harper Goodwin of Norwich VT has staged an exhibition of photos that tell the story of then, defined by a trip he took in 1988 to Leningrad, Moscow, Tbilisi, and Vilnius, just three years before the end of the USSR. 

Boys in town near Tbilisi, Georgia

The timing of this exhibition is no accident. Goodwin notes that this December marks the 25th anniversary of the USSR's collapse, causing him to reflect on the Cold War, a time when both sides "attempted to demonize and distort the average citizens of their adversary." Certainly travel is the antidote for that. When they actually met, Goodwin discovered that both he and the Soviets were aware of these "inaccuracies," and "we always had a good laugh when we chatted." 

Priest in Mtskheta, Georgia

In his Images of the Soviet Union, 1988, photos are in black and white, an artistic choice Goodwin favors and for which he credits his filmmaker/photographer father. It may seem particularly apt for studies of the Soviet Union, which we often think of as colorless or at best, a monotonous gray. The photos are a bit of a surprise, then. Informal portraits and street scenes show animated faces (Goodwin describes them as "remarkable for their diversity, intensity and honesty") and the actions of ordinary, daily life. No clichéd Soviet-style bleakness, but rather, the depth of the quotidian that you will recognize even if you have never ventured far from home. 

Baker, Vilnius, Lithuania

Goodwin lives in Norwich and makes his living as a photographer, following 15 years as a teacher in Vermont and New Hampshire schools. If the current exhibition is vintage Goodwin, his website offers more recent work, including some in color. One piece in particular caught my eye; not faces this time, but feet.

Dancing Feet 1, Dartmouth Powwow, 2016

Libraries and similar spaces, like the OSHER office, accomplish the improbable by exhibiting photographic and other art cheek-by-jowl with their own daily lives and activities. (You can read my posts about former and current exhibitions at the libraries in Lyme and Hartland as well as at the OSHER headquarters in Hanover by clicking on the highlighted names.) On the day of my visit to the Norwich Public Library, Goodwin's 1988 Soviet Union shared the same time and space as local kids competing at 2016 Wii.

One could contemplate the art and cheer on the competitors at Wii in the lower level community room at the Norwich Public Library.

Seth Harper Goodwin's Images of the Soviet Union, 1988 continues at the Norwich Public Library through January 8, 2017. On January 9, it will move to the Russo Gallery just outside of Dartmouth's John Sloan Dickey Center, as part of a larger program on art under communism.

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Susan B. Apel, writer, ArtfulEdge



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