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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From personal experience of over a decade living in America, there’s one US import we don’t need: Black Friday. This is a phenomenon reserved for the last Friday of November and the day after Thanksgiving, when every retail store in the country offers one-day-only deals to herald the start of the Christmas season. The day the retail industry finally break even, or go “into the black”.

 

But it has become almost like a capitalist mini-version of The Hunger Games – actually, the more I think about it, I’m becoming more and more convinced The Hunger Games was inspired by Black Friday. It pits shoppers against each other to secure the first of the holiday deals – but the reality is fist fights over toasters, screaming fits over cut-price calculators, people being knocked over in the ensuing bedlam, and men waiting for three days in the cold for plasma TVs.

 

And all part of the blatant over-commercialisation of Christmas, as big business gets us to flex the plastic for evermore spiralling debt. And unfortunately, it’s creeping here into the UK as we speak. Looking around Glasgow yesterday, stores are trying to entice customers to spend, spend, spend with big black signs announcing it to be “Black Friday” – and all encouraged by large US conglomerates that are the parent companies of the UK stores.

 

America is a lost cause regarding Black Friday – but in the UK, there’s hope. There’s the counter-movement “Buy Nothing Day”, which encourages you to embark on a 24-hour shopping detox instead of rushing to the shops. Their credo is simple: “Lock up your wallets and purses, cut up your credit cards and dump the love of your life – shopping!”

 

Which gives us a nice segue into today’s photo from the archives: my first Black Friday experience in downtown Seattle, where I witnessed the birth of a small anti-consumer group that sprang up from nowhere and surprised everyone. And each year since, I get numerous request via Flickr from many campaigners asking if they can use it; and this week was no different.  “Feel free – anything that helps to Black Black Friday,” I say to everyone and anyone.

 

Leica M6 Classic & 1.4/50mm Summilux pre-asph v.3
Fuji Provia 400X
Developed & scanned by Panda Lab

 

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No, I said masticating, which is something completely different – though in my old parish of Seattle, it can be just as dirty.  So dirty, in fact, it was declared the “germiest place on Earth”; a blight for tourists and apparently a “health-hazard”, so City Hall sadly stepped in.

 

I am, of course, referring to the infamous Pike Market gum wall, a local landmark that is being cleaned of its more than one million gum wads for the first time in over 20 years.  The controversial move is being made “to protect the integrity of the bricks making up the historic walls of Post Alley,” say officials.  The steam-cleaning and chipping off of the gum wads started on Tuesday.

 

It’s sad, in many ways, as I often regarded this quirk – along with the notorious gone but-not-forgotten Lusty Lady, just around the corner – as being a part of the “real Seattle” and arguably a piece of true living art where the term “culture” has more than just one meaning. The tradition is believed to have started over 20 years ago by audience members “de-wadding” while waiting in line for the improv comedy club, Market Theatre.

 

But it then took on a life of its own, so to speak, and over the years, the gum expanded beyond the original wall and spread across an area eight feet high and over 54 feet – and it was always quite a sight in the summer watching those brave tourists trying to jump as high as they could to find a bare spot. Thankfully, once cleaned, the gum wall will live on – it is, after all, one of the few remaining Seattle traditions and a crowd-sourced piece of public art.

 

Leica R8 & 2/50mm Summicron-R

Kodak Portra 400VC

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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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We have a very rare dalliance with colour today, in honour of the start of the ‘Big Red Redo’, as Glazer’s Camera start phase one of their new development, with the main shop now gutted and relocated across the road to their old supplies shop (which re-opens today at noon), as the wrecking ball waits in the wings to demolish the old building.  And hopefully, in 2 years time or so, when its finished, Glazer’s – with company red livery and all – will once again return to its hallowed ground.

 

For those that don’t know the history, Glazer’s opened its door in 1935 on Seattle’s First Avenue, close to the historic Pioneer Square, which must make it one of the longest, continually running camera stores in the US. And it also has to be one of the best camera stores, period – and I don’t just say that because they allow me in. I’ve often compared Glazer’s to Cheers, that fabled TV bar where everyone knows your name; and the only thing that could make the experience at Glazer’s any better, is if they had bar stools installed and served drinks – and if they did, I think I’d get the part of barfly Norm!

 

The iconic big red wall of the main building has become something of a Seattle landmark – and I’ve suggested to the powers that be that, like the Berlin Wall, when it comes time for it to finally be torn down, they should allow all those photography aficionados to come take home a piece of the wall.

 

Leica MP & 50mm Summilux asph
Kodak Ektachrome 100
Processed & scanned Panda Lab

 

 

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At the always energetic Pike Place Fish Co. at the Market, they like to make a show of their work. The staff… Let’s call them boisterous. They’re loud. It’s loud. And it’s brilliant. They’re holding the attention of a large crowd by chucking huge salmons between them like NBA stars with a basketball.

 

It led me to have the following discourse with one of the fish guys:

 

“Do you ever drop it?”

“We’re human, of course we drop it!”

“What happens then?”

“We pick it up… But we don’t sell it to humans. It goes to the zoo for the bears.”

 

It could be worse, I suppose…it could well be a giraffe at a Danish zoo named Marius.

 

Leica M6 Classic & 50mm Summicron

Kodak Portra 160 (new)

Developed & scanned Panda Lab

 

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My menagerie of downtown Seattle buildings continues…but this time, instead of eagles, we have the walrus-themed Arctic Club on Cherry.  This is the building that, each time I pass by it, always reminds me of I Am The Walrus from the Beatles 1967 Love album. You know, the crazy one from Lennon & McCartney that goes: “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.” (Trivia fact: Seattle was the first city in the United States to play a Beatles song on the radio) 

 

The Arctic Building was built in 1916 as the headquarters for the Arctic Club, a business and social organisation founded on the back of those who made their fortune during the Klondike Gold Rush of 1897. It is now a successful hotel. This ornate and historic landmark is beloved by Seattleites due to its terra-cotta walruses that adorn each of the windows around its third floor.

 

However the original terra-cotta tusks had some dental work done to them: they were removed years ago as a precaution against potential injury to passer-byes in earthquakes, and replaced with fake fibreglass ones. Thirteen of the walrus heads were also removed during a 1997 renovation and replaced with new, hand-sculpted ones by Boston Valley Terra Cotta near Buffalo, NY, one of only two U.S. companies currently producing architectural terra-cotta.

 

Leica M6 Classic & 90mm Summicron

Kodak Portra 160 (new)

Processed & 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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