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there is always something (why I shoot film)

There are maybe ten shots left on the roll. Outside the metro, a collection of pigeons sit on minuscule ledges above two old men. They talk as all old men do, with operatic waves of their hands, sour expressions, belly laughs, eventually scratching their chins as they stare off at nothing in particular. I am pretending to take pictures of something near them, then swing across when they are not looking to shoot a few frames. At one point I surrender to the afternoon and move on.

And now, the courtyard that leads to the film lab. A great old building rests here, a school of architecture where students mill around dressed in black sucking on cigarettes with giant portfolios tucked under their arms. A young man approaches me. I am ready to tell him I have no idea what he is saying, but he wants to know where the film lab is. I jut my chin, telling him the door is just beyond a few bushes. He nods his thanks.

There are screens set up in a jagged line, sheathed in filthy white plastic to …

Moscow at night


I was on a back street, behind Lubyanka. The name meant nothing to me when I first came to Moscow, just that it sounded a lot like люблю (lyublyu) which means "love". My naive ears did not understand that this place was a prison, and the headquarters of the KGB. It is also the name of a metro station, and I imagined lovers kissing here in old photographs, maybe a bridge with cascades of rusting locks attached to it like Ponte Milvio in Rome. Sometimes our imagination seems so logical, so possible that we simply accept it. For years I did not know the truth, not that anyone really knows what happens behind the dark concrete and the high windows of this place.

It looks empty, deserted. A lone guard approaches, asks a few questions and tells us to keep going.

On Tverskaya, there are museums and statues. Chekhov wrote about this street, Tolstoy, Pushkin and Bulgakov too. There is a great statue of Marx, his body half-submerged in a great block of stone, as if the work was left unfinished but somehow ended up on display. On this night he gazes into the percolating traffic, the people milling around. There is history upon history here. Churches that were ripped down to nothing, mansions built, invasions, triumphs. But the streets tell no story, they simply crumble over time. I look at the faces, and they are empty or lost in the tiny screens of their phones. I used to make fun of people that looked up in New York, marveling at the architecture. "Tourists" we would say, with an all-knowing sneer. New Yorker's look forwards and walk fast, that is what we all believed.

Turning the corner onto Mosfilm where we live, the wind blows softly through the trees. An old woman walks a tiny dog. A vegetable stand is closed, surrounded by empty boxes that hang open, a collection of giant cardboard mouths waiting to be fed. There are puddles in the streets, reflecting the lights on in homes, warm and yellow.  I imagine I can tell which one is ours, high above the trees with wet laundry drying on a rack in the living room.




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