"Look at me lovingly." Seven rare photographs of Sergei Dovlatov

September 17

A photo exhibition "Look at me lovingly", timed to coincide with the 80th birthday of Sergei Dovlatov, was opened at the Alexander Solzhenitsyn House of Russian Diaspora. The exposition includes photographs from the writer's family archive and personal collections of his friends, illustrating Dovlatov's writer’s trajectory from the first steps in Soviet journalism to publications in well-known US magazines. He spent the last 12 years of his life, from 1978 to 1990, in emigration.

One of the exhibition’s curators was the journalist Natalya (Natasha) Sharymova, a contemporary and friend of Dovlatov, who knew him both in the Soviet and American periods of his life. At the request of mos.ru, she chose seven photographs from the ones displayed at the House of Russian Diaspora and explained their background.

Exhibition concept

I met Sergei Dovlatov back in Leningrad. He was a noticeable, tall, glamor man, charming and pensive. It was felt that some kind of intense inner life hided in him. I had clout at the Aurora magazine (my husband Alexander Matveyevich worked there as the executive secretary) and knew that the magazine would like very much to publish Dovlatov's stories, but it was not allowed. Later, for a short time, as member of the samizdat magazine “37” editorial board, I negotiated with Sergei the possible publication of his works in this magazine. So as early as in the Leningrad times, I read stories that were later included in the collection “Zone. Notes of the Overseer". Dovlatov's writing talent was obvious.

In New York, I was friends with Dovlatov, was a member of the editorial board of the weekly newspaper "New American", for which I wrote texts and took photographs. Now many years on, it seems interesting to have the writer biography presented with photographs reflecting his personality and work. Elena, Sergei's wife, and daughter Ekaterina provided the pictures from their archives. Elena became one of the curators of the exhibition, together with the photographer Pavel Platonov. Andrei Ariev, Losevs, Belomlinskys families, Mikhail Torich also provided their archives photographs. The exposition includes photographs by Nina Alovert, Valery Karpov, Joseph Malkiel, Ilya Koltun, Leonid Lubyanitsky, Pavel Platonov, Lev Polyakov, Anatoly Pronin, Mark Serman, Natasha Sharymova, Mikhail Lemkhin and others.

The curators of the exhibition are grateful to the Alexander Solzhenitsyn House of Russian Diaspora for this exhibition housing. Without Tatyana Korolkova, head of the library, and Elena Khorina, graphic designer of the House of Russian Diaspora, this event would not have happened.

Recital of the Writers Union youth section. Leningrad, 1968. Photo by Natasha Sharymova

This photo was taken in the White Hall of the House of Writers named after V.V. Mayakovsky (in Leningrad. - mos.ru note). The youth section famous recital was held there, led by the writer, translator Boris Vakhtin - the son of the writer Vera Panova (whose literary secretary was Sergei Dovlatov. - mos.ru note).

That recital with many writers performing brought the house down. After that recital a denunciation was send to the board of the USSR Writers Union. The youth section was closed. All these events are described in detail, including documents, in the memoirs of the Russian and American writer Igor Efimov.

I photographed Dovlatov, in the background, publicist and prose writer Yakov Gordin. An interesting story is connected with this evening, which reflects the human memory mechanism. Last year, one of the newspapers devoted an entire spread with photographs and memoirs to this event. It turned out that no one remembers that writer Maya Danini, poetess Tatyana Galushko, poet and publicist Poel Karp, Boris Vakhtin performed at the evening. In the material, only Sergey Dovlatov, Yakov Gordin, Vladimir Maramzin, Vladimir Uflyand and Joseph Brodsky were mentioned. I still have photofilm on which almost every participant was captured - but there was not enough film for Maramzin, Brodsky and Uflyand, which I am terribly sorry about.

Farewell off the Losevs family. Leningrad, 1976. Photo by Ilya Koltun

Poet Lev Losev (then - Lifshits) worked in the children's magazine "Koster", among other things, he was in charge of the sports department and, using his job privileges, sent his friends on business trips, helping to earn money. Brodsky was sent to Kaliningrad, Dovlatov, to the pioneer camp "Artek", and photographer Lev Polyakov, somewhere else. He charged me to answer the letters of the Youth Spartakiad participants. At the suggestion of Losev, the magazine published watercolors by the artist Marianna Basmanova, the muse of Joseph Brodsky.

In Leningrad and, of course, in Moscow, a certain circle of people was formed who adhered to the same values: watched "trophy" films (foreign movies that were not on then in the USSR. - mos.ru note), enjoyed jazz, got records "on the bones" (the underground culture of recording songs on X-ray photographs. - mos.ru note), listened to Willis Conover jazz radio broadcasting and folk, read Ernest Hemingway. Then they switched to studying the Polish language, Polish magazines and movies. They read works of semiotician Yuri Lotman, University of Tartu professor, were fans of impressionism and abstractionism, read the magazines "America" and "England" and obtained samizdat books wherever possible. And they also read the Silver Age Russian poetry. They were rather careless, did not accept the dominant ideology: they pretended, as far as possible, that it did not exist. Of course, this happened after the death of Joseph Stalin, thanks to the Thaw. I think this circle in Leningrad included about 100 people. The literary men were half of them, artists, a quarter, and the rest were beautiful ladies, lovers of fine literature. This photo captures many significant characters of those years.

Birthday of Sergei Dovlatov. New York, September 3, 1980. Photo by Nina Alovert

The author of this wonderful, stunning photograph, Nina Alovert is a ballet critic, unique photographer and author of several photographic albums. Pay attention to this picture: you will never see Dovlatov so cheerful and full of optimism anywhere else. Joseph Brodsky presented the T-shirt to him and he put on the sombrero for fun. Ahead is the creation of the émigré magazine "New American", where Dovlatov will become the chief editor. Two of his collections of stories were published, and 10 more should have been printed.

Vladimir Voinovich and Sergey Dovlatov. New York, 1980. Photo by Nina Alovert

This photograph was taken by Nina Alovert at the Dovlatovs' apartment in Queens. The Voinovich family arrived in America that day, and the New American editorial staff went to greet the writer at the John F. Kennedy International Airport, and then we all went to Dovlatovs.

Vladimir Voinovich, naturally, was interested in literary life and asked journalists about it. He was dumbfounded: English-speaking driver of taxi in which he was traveling to New York with his wife, Alexander Batchan and me, turned around and said: "I know Chonkin" (Vladimir Voinovich's novel "The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin" was published in 1975 in Paris. - mos.ru note).

New American editorial staff. Central Park, New York, 1981. Photo by Anatoly Pronin

This is the only photograph of the journalists and staff of the weekly. It was taken by a talented photographer, unfortunately now deceased, Anatoly Pronin. I hope that someone will take an interest in his photographic archive and publish his works. I also hope that there are researchers who can describe the story of the creation of the New American newspaper, full of hope, drama and pain.

I know that some of the surviving employees of this newspaper are going to write biographies of everyone who is captured in this photograph. These are Alik Batchan, Elena Dovlatova, Natasha Sharymova, Grigory Polyak, Lev Losev, Mikhail Blank, Peter Weil, Irina Genis, Vitaly Dlugy, Lyubov Fedorova, Alexander Genis, Nina Alovert, Sergey Dovlatov, Boris Metter, Igor Genis, Lev Stern, and Ekaterina Dovlatova.

Sergey Dovlatov, Elena Dovlatova, Vasily Aksenov. New York, 1980. Photo by Natasha Sharymova

Vasily Aksenov was stripped of his Soviet citizenship, and the editorial staff of New American went to the airport to greet the writer. Vasily Aksenov, a charming person, was interested in the affairs of our newspaper and constantly communicated with Sergei Dovlatov, its editor-in-chief.

Sergey Dovlatov and Kurt Vonnegut. New York, 1980. Photo by Nina Alovert

Another legend, alias an immutable truth. The author of “Cat's Cradle", "Slaughterhouse Number Five" and other works, Kurt Vonnegut wrote a letter to Dovlatov stating that he, an American writer, could never get published by The New Yorker magazine (Dovlatov became the second Russian writer after Vladimir Nabokov who could publish his story in this edition. - mos.ru note). K. Vonnegut congratulates the young Russian author on this well-deserved success and admires his talent. I quote from memory: I have not seen this letter, but it exists and was published. Judging by the expressions on their faces in the picture, it seems that Sergei Dovlatov and Kurt Vonnegut are pleased with each other and this meeting.

Source: mos.ru

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