Vitya’s Frocks and Smocks

A king in his kingdom.

My friend, Vitya, asked me to come photograph some of his offerings at his knitwear store. He is building a website and needed to add photos of women’s apparel. I agreed gladly, glad that I could help him out, glad that I could spend some time with him, glad to be doing something new. Man, was I glad! So I hopped in his ride, and we went downtown to the Central Trading Center, which is something like a mall, only it is full of scads of little stores. The majority of these stores sell women’s apparel, and if you are looking for short skirts or high heels, you have hit the jackpot!

Vitya, like so many of my friends here in Irkutsk, has recovered from heroin addiction. He was studying to be a doctor before his foray into the drug world, which is why he has the nickname “Doctor”. He is married with one son and another child on the way, and he is supporting his family through this apparel store and by traveling to different points in Irkutsk where he sets up a mobile store to sell bedding.

Vitya’s family is pretty representative of a young family trying to make their way here in Irkutsk. His family lives with his Mother-in-law. They have been trying to get a loan, so they could buy a place of their own, but no loan is forthcoming. Here in Russia housing prices are astronomical when compared with a young families income. In fact, as I think about it, most of the young couples we know live with their parents or grandparents. They dream of a place to call their own. Dream, dream, dream. Vitya said to me while we drove downtown, “Russia is hard to understand, we have more land than any other country! It should be easy for me to buy land and build a house, but it is like pulling teeth.” He echoes the thoughts of young couples all across this immense land.

Vitya putting up an advertisement over his shop.

I confess, I am somewhat of an artist. I can get carried away with imagining how fabulous a project could be. We could really make his website compelling with some captivating photos of bathrobes, pajamas and summer dresses. So here is an excerpt of our conversation, in which we figured out how we were gonna photograph the outfits, or I should say, how I imagine the conversation now. Actually it was in Russian, and I am lacking some basic words when it comes to the fashion and apparel industry. For fun, let’s imagine my Russian is perfect.

This is Lena, seller of clothing and store keep.

Lena and Vitya deciding what to photograph.

“Vitya, if we put someone IN the clothing, it will sell itself! Maybe we should get a model, no?”

“No, that would be too fancy for my site.”

“Oh, OK, well let’s get some really nice white material, which will set off the colors of the clothing for a background.”

“We don’t have any white material, how about this furry, cream colored blanket we are selling?”

“Really Vitya, you want summer dresses on a furry background???”

“Alex, I don’t need anything fancy, people just need to get an idea of what they can find at my store. Don’t try too hard, keep it simple.”

So we hung up the fur, hung the dresses over it with the help of Lena, Vitya’s employee, and click, click, click, sun dresses, frocks, chemises, bathrobes, housecoats, I shot them all.

The store is about twelve by twelve!

I really admire Vitya and all the young men and ladies who took a turn down a really dark road, but found the Hand of Hope reaching to them in their despair. They are making a go of it, walking in faith, and it is beautiful to witness.

Siberian Pineapple

The sign says: "Pineapple, very tasty, 30 rubles each".

With temperatures hovering well south of zero, street vendors find creative ways to sell their products. While most of us would be home shivering under a blanket, Siberians put on fur and go about their business. If you sell produce outside, you take some hot tea, and you stand in the cold all day!

Fruit vendors bundled against the frost. Note both customers are wearing reindeer hide boots.

Now I’ve seen frozen fruit, vegetables, fish, and meat all unpackaged hunks of ice waiting to be chunked into any bag you’ve got handy, but yesterday was the first time I’ve encountered frozen pineapple for sale!
Pineapple and Siberia, have those two words ever been uttered out loud together? Until recently Siberians believed pineapples were a hoax, conceived by rich Russian vacationers to make them jealous. (Untrue, I made that last part up.)
Frozen pineapples lined up at a booth was too much for me, I broke into laughter! Noting my interest, the sales lady leveled her considerable business acumen at me with a “how many are you going to buy?” At a dollar a piece, how could I refuse? I did however refuse her offer on frozen kiwi. I don’t think my body could handle the right-left combination of pineapple-kiwi in Siberia. I paid up and stashed my prize in a backpack.

A cheery lady selling loverly frozen tropical pineapples.

Later Yulia and I staged an impromptu photo session to express the joy of discovery. Look for a photo exhibit coming soon to your town, entitled: “Stranger in a Strange Land”.

A whiff of the sweet stranger.

A "Resevoir Dogsesque" saunter. I know, the pineapple makes me look TOUGH!

"Look! Siberian pineapples do grow on trees!"