Solzhenitsyn's Life Shown in Intimate Details

Solzhenitsyn FoundationA photo exhibit showing at the Manezh Exhibition Hall provides a number of intimate, personal moments in author Alexander Solzhenitsyn's long life.
For someone who was such a legend during his lifetime, Alexander Solzhenitsyn seems almost vulnerable in the first major photo retrospective since his death earlier this year.

The exhibit at the Manezh Exhibition Hall puts photos from the Solzhenitsyn archives in the center and surrounds them with documentary images of Russia from the past century.

There are photos taken by Solzhenitsyn and his family, as well as those of Soviet greats such as Alexander Rodchenko and Yevgeny Khaldei that were pulled from the State Archive and the Moscow House of Photography's collection.

"I think that many people will see one more book left by Solzhenitsyn, although he never wrote it. It is the book of his life," said Natalya Solzhenitsyna in an interview with Radio Svoboda.

Solzhenitsyn Foundation

The exhibition is part of events linked to the anniversary of Solzhenitsyn's birth on Dec. 11. A web site devoted to his writings will open that date.

The exhibit allows us to see Solzhenitsyn's life in context of the events that unfolded in Russia over his near 90 years of life. As Solzhenitsyn poses with a teddy bear as a small child, orphans in early Soviet Russia pose with the first pioneers. Scenes of poverty give way to Rodchenko's Soviet symmetry as the planned economy spreads from the kolkhoz fields to the gulag camps.

The war, which he was afraid to "go through without seeing," as he wrote, was what first set him on a path of dissent. As rosy-faced farmers pose with their newborns among haystacks in post-war Russia, Solzhenitsyn is "an element," having been jailed and sent into exile for dissent by the Soviet system, living in a Kazakhstan shack and taking pictures of rural Central Asia when not teaching physics or trying to organize his modest household.

Solzhenitsyn Foundation

Solzhenitsyn's life has made him into a towering figure in Russian modern history, but a number of the photos are intimate personal moments that can be both touching and insightful: the author behind the wheel of a car as a small girl is giving him a glass jar full of strawberries; Boris Pasternak helping the family with luggage for their last flight out of Russia; Solzhenitsyn on his balcony in Zurich, holding up a sign that says "Leave Solzhenitsyn alone."

We see how European magazines hailed his return 20 years later with the cliched headlines "Moscow Awaits Its Prophet" and "He Returns to The Land of His Suffering." And we follow him on his first steps in the Russia that he had been forced to leave.

Last August, the writer died, embraced by the leaders of the new Russia and seemingly accepted by the country that rejected him for most of his life. The last pictures of Solzhenitsyn show a frail man who resembles a Byzantine icon.

"All his life was written on his face," said Yury Feklistov, who took the last photos of Solzhenitsyn, speaking on Radio Svoboda.

These photos appear next to those of the most recent United Party congress. No longer an inquisitive youth or a stubborn exile, Solzhenitsyn appeared to be reconciled with the powers that be, even though some might say the country has come full circle.

"Moscow House of Photography: Alexander Solzhenitsyn and His Time in Photographs" runs through Dec. 14. at The Manezh Exhibition Hall, 1 Manezh Square. M. Okhotny Ryad, Alexandrovsky Sad. 737-6647