Daily Archives: August 30, 2011

Photography: Nathan Farb – Russians

These photos are from the 1978 book Russians by Nathan Farb. The photos are great but the story surrounding them is just as interesting. Nathan Farb was a New York photographer who would wander the streets of NY taking Polaroids of tourists for a dollar. He later became friends w/ Diane Arbus and was invited to accompany her at a show of American photographers in Russia. The show was attended by thousands of Russians eager to see what the Americans were up to. Farb took Polaroids of the attendees and gave them the prints. What they, or the authorities, didn’t know was that Nathan had figured out a way to make negatives from the Polaroids. He then smuggled them out of the country in a diplomatic pouch through the US Embassy. This was 1975 – the middle of the cold war – and Farb would have been in serious trouble trying to take these out of Russia. He felt if everyone could see that Russians were just as normal as Americans that it might alleviate some of the tension between the two countries.

As an aside, Farb mentioned that although many famous photographers were on display, the Russians were most interested in pictures from magazines like Better Homes and Gardens and Vogue.

“The US government put those mags on display to show how much better life was in a capitalist state. But what seemed to interest the young people looking at  them most was the fashion. They came to the exhibition in their home-sewn clothing, and after the show they ran home to copy the clothes they saw on their  sewing machines.”