Recently I started going through my old negatives and made some wonderful reconnections with stories I have not seen for twenty-five years. It is like being reacquainted with old friends. The past century I photographed with film cameras usually loaded with black and white film resulting in a large library of negatives containing many stories from places all over the world. Places like the Ukraine, Romania, Central Asia, Caucasus, Kosovo, Czechoslovakia, China, South and Central America, Middle East, New York, Montreal and more.
Looking through these negatives now as a veteran photographer I realize how many great moments I overlooked and never printed. Technology too has changed, instead of a darkroom, a lovely process indeed, it was often a time-consuming commitment and often I had to ration what negatives to print because of those restraints. However, today I can scan the same negatives at a fraction of the time, allowing me to broaden my selection. Reconnecting with work that spans twenty-five years has become a revealing experience, not only for the hidden gems I first overlooked but also for the opportunity to access a body of work that could have easily been forgotten.
I spent a month with the Czechs of Borodinovka. I became a new member of the family I stayed with. I did daily chores, I also milked a cow but with a little success. There were some 800 Czechs living in the village, located 120 km from Aktyubinsk – the major city of northern Kazakhstan in 1995. The history of Borodinovka begins in 1911, when several Czech families moving from Moldavia relocated to the region in response to an offer of the Russian government to farm the rich lands in exchange for a parcel of land.
Ukraine in 90’
I started visiting Ukraine after its independence in 1991. My first trip was contracted by Canadian International Development Agency at the turn of the year 1994 and 1995. Immediately I felt love with this country and their people.
“Ukraine” means borderlands, and like all borderlands its fate was to fall victim to invasion and oppression from surrounding countries. In their turn, the Lithuanians, Poles, Turks, Tatars and, for a long period, the Russians have each dominated the people of the Ukraine. Through the centuries, the Ukrainians have desired their sovereignty. Shortly after the Soviet coup on the 24th of August 1991, independence was declared after a nation-wide referendum.
I heard about Czech communities in Banat region of Romania from a friend. He told me about communities which have preserved their heritage for more than 180 years by simply passing it from one generation to another. I received a grant from the Arts Awards Service of the Canada Council, packed my cameras and went to see these isolated Czech villages before the globalization will affect them.
Exactly 10 years after my escape I was wandering streets of Prague with my Nikon FE, loaded with black and white film.
I emigrated from my native Czechoslovakia in 1981. And I thought that I might never be able to return. It never occurred to me that the Berlin Wall would fall and that communism in Eastern Europe would collapse. Furthermore that dissident writer would be elected president of Czechoslovakia.