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>> EXPOSURE 2013
The Drunken Bicycle—Travels in the Former Soviet Union
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Frank Ward, Café, Lake Issy-Kul Kyrgyzstan from the series The Drunken Bicycle, Archival Pigment Print, 2012.
I photograph in the Former Soviet Union (FSU). In Russia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia, the pathways are ancient and the horizons are open to all that globalization has to offer. My interpretation is of the present.
In many Russian town squares, men sell rides on a drunken bicycle, a conventional bike outfitted with a reverse steering gear. If the rider turns the handlebars right, the front wheel turns left. The operator demonstrates how easy it is and awards a beer if one can travel a few meters without falling. Crowds circle the action and many brave men attempt the challenge. That said, I have never seen a customer navigate the bike successfully.
The drunken bicycle is an apt metaphor for life in the FSU. The bureaucrats appear to sway on it; the hapless traveler spends his days confused by the swing of it, and this photographer is continually under its influence.
Curious pleasures accompany my confounded expectations. The security guard repeating, “I love you,” as he gestures for me to delete pictures of a destroyed habitat. Or the policemen who accuse me of stealing strategic military secrets by photographing a World War II tank on display in a city park. Or the graffiti scribbled on a high school desk: “Stalin is gay.”
The publicly dour Russians think we Americans always have a foolish grin pasted on our faces. Well, I do, but I am not laughing at the former Soviets. It is the joy of seeing a painted wall mural of Lenin looking at Marilyn Monroe, or my surprise at a grandmother asking me to photograph her in a bikini at the beach. The FSU is a paradise of paradox, where the landscapes are limitless and the people are full of passion and pain.
Frank Ward was born in Taunton, Massachusetts in 1949, and lives in Ashfield, Massachusetts. In 2012, Ward gave workshops in Central Asia as a Cultural Envoy for the U.S. Department of State. In 2011, he was awarded an Artist Fellowship from the Massachusetts Cultural Council for his photography in the Former Soviet Union. Ward’s work is in the collections of several New England area museums, he exhibits internationally, and he holds a Masters of Fine Arts degree from Bard College. Ward’s mother continues to be amazed that he is a successful photographer and Professor of Art at Holyoke Community College. He is represented by Photo Eye Gallery in Santa Fe, NM, he is on the advisory board of SocialDocumentary.net, and maintains a blog.