Commie Crimbo

 

As 2017 draws to a close, it would be remiss of me not to mention this year also being the 100th anniversary since Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov – better known to one and all as ‘Lenin’ – staged his Bolshevik Revolution. American radical journalist and socialist John Reed (who was portrayed by Warren Beatty in his wonderfully-epic 1981 movie, Reds) witnessed at firsthand the chaos of Lenin’s 1917 revolution and chronicled the story in his seminal book, Ten Days That Shook the World.

 

Large and imposing street statues of Lenin once used to dominate the former Soviet Union and the states of the former Warsaw Pact countries – but after the break-up of the Soviet Union on December 26, 1991, just about all of those Lenin statues were removed or pulled down. But one in Poprad, in then Czechoslovakia, was saved from being melted down, and curiously ended up becoming the only US public statue of the Bolshevik totalitarian dictator.

 

You can find this larger-than-life (all 16-feet and 7-tons of it), controversial bronze rendering of Lenin, as he glares down at you from his corner perch in the funky, free-thinking beatnik Republic of Fremont in Seattle – and the full story of how it ended up there, can be read by clicking here. And with Fremont being Fremont, each Christmas old Lennie gets into the community spirit of things by being bedecked by the locals in Crimbo lights and seasonal trimmings.

 

There are many reasons why this was one of my favourite Seattle landmarks to photograph, such as this one from the archives, shot on this day back in 2011. It’s just so out of place to find a Lenin statue located in the US, yet, paradoxically, so completely in place with it being there in Fremont, the city’s quirkiest neighbourhood. And earlier this year, as the US hotly-debated within itself about just which controversial statues should and shouldn’t be removed from public display, it became the subject of the ‘saddest right-wing protest ever‘, as seven protesters ‘marched’ on Fremont to demand its removal.

 

Leica M7 & 2/35mm Summicron ASPH

Long exposure: f5.6/12 seconds

Fuji Velvia 50

Developed & Scanned by Panda Lab

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Our tribute to Elvis Presley in the 40th anniversary week of his death continues with what I think is arguably one of the best, later touring years caricatures of the King, titled “Return To Sender” – coincidently also my favourite Elvis song, from his 1962 movie, Girls! Girls! Girls! – by artist Sean Read, that can be found in Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum, the most visited UK museum outside of London.

 

And this is one particular shot from my pre-blog archives that only colour film could do justice to!

 

It shows the King blinged-out and wearing one of his outlandish, trademark jumpsuits he wore on stage between 1969 and 1977; his comeback years when he toured the US almost non-stop and struggled with depression and addiction that accounted for the bloating, so hence the need for easily-adaptable outfits.  

 

According to the Graceland archives, Elvis had over 60 jumpsuits in his collection and would wear each for about six months at a time, and accompanied by many dry cleaning and repair bills for each suit.

 

Leica M7 & 35mm Summicron

Kodak Portra 400NC

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It’s pretty tepid, as performance art goes. It’s not over-the-top, like a lot of the flash-mob stuff you might see in New York, or as in-your-face as it gets in San Francisco. Just take an outdoor mall, in this case, 2010 at Westlake Center in downtown Seattle, on Black Friday, stuffed to the brim with pedestrian shoppers of all ages from many walks of life. Then take anywhere between 10 and 40 people in their best formal wear carrying large black signs that all say the same thing in large white letters.

 

As the crowds spend (or perhaps click) their way to bankruptcy with money they haven’t got on the ‘plastic fantastic’, these campaigners were out in force doing what those Seattle activists do best of all.  You could overhear conversations with bemused shoppers wondering what they were all about, that went something like this:

 

“What’s the message here?”

“To Buy More Stuff.”

“Is this sarcastic?”

“No, ma’am. We think everyone should buy more stuff, and hurry!”

“Are you an anarchist?”

“No. I believe in spending. Either the stores will run out of stuff or you’ll run out of time!”

 

So what happened to the “Buy More Stuff” campaigners, I hear you ask?  Well, as far as I can tell, they mostly spawned off to become part of the Occupy movement in Seattle and Portland.

 

Leica M7 & 50mm Summilux V2

Fuji Provia 400X

Developed & scanned Panda Lab

 

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Not so much The Hollies second hit from 1967, penned by Allan Clarke, Tony Hicks and Graham Nash (who later went on to form the supergroup Crosby, Stills and Nash), all about riding up and down on the carousel of emotions of a typical romance, but yet another big Seattle tradition: the Holiday Carousel in downtown Westlake Park (with the Macy’s Christmas Star in the background).

 

The earliest known record of a carousel dates back to a Byzantine etching from 500 AD which shows riders swinging in baskets tied to a central pole. And this one also goes back quite a few years, but not to 500AD, and makes for an exciting wooden horseback adventure with a festive holiday feel to it, that parents and grandparents are taking kids there to sit on the same rides they had also once rode in their youth.

 

The carousel is staffed exclusively by volunteers with all proceeds from the rides benefits the Treehouse charity for improving the lives of kids living in foster care in the Seattle area.

 

Leica M7 & 35mm Summicron
Fuji Velvia 50
f11/8 seconds
Color processing and scanning by Panda Lab

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In a week that saw Vladimir Ilych Ulyanov, otherwise known as Lenin, being knocked from his pedestal, smashed into pieces by mallet-wielding men and carried off in hundreds of small granite chunks in Kiev after hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians took to the streets in the latest display of anger at President Viktor Yanukovich’s rejection of closer ties with Europe in preference with Russia, here in Seattle, in a marvellous juxtaposition, they were venerating the one and only US public statue of the Bolshevik totalitarian dictator by bedecking it with Christmas lights.

 

You can find this larger-than-life (all 7 tons of it), controversial bronze rendering of Lenin as he glares down at you from his corner perch in the funky, free-thinking beatnik Republic of Fremont, just across from the old Doric Masonic Lodge (they cater for all tastes in Fremont!). The statue was created by Emil Venkov, a Slavic artist, and installed in his home-town of Poprad, in 1988. But just a year later, Lewis Carpenter, an American veteran teaching in Poprad, found the sculpture – much like in Kiev right now – lying face down after it was toppled during the 1989 Revolution that witnessed the breakup of the Soviet Union.  Carpenter mortgaged his Issaquah home so he could bring it back home to sell. He died in 1994 but the family now owns the statue and its still placed there temporarily for view and sale (offers of around $150k and a good home – would make an ideal Christmas gift!), both to fulfil Carpenter’s dream – that the work be seen and enjoyed and eventually find a permanent home – and to serve as a reminder of an important period of history.

 

And with Fremont being Fremont, each Christmas – in a move that would make this non-believer turn in his glass box back in Mother Russia –  old Lennie gets into the spirit of things by being decked out in lights and seasonal trimmings. And there’s no truth in the rumour that, during this time of the year, and in keeping with the spirit of almost round-the-clock showings of It’s A Wonderful Life, if you hear a bell ringing beside the statue then a (Friedrich) Engels gets his wings.

 

Leica M7 & 35mm Summicron
Fuji Velvia 50
f5.6/12 seconds
Color Processing & scanning by Panda Lab

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