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1 December 2012

- 31 May 2013

Dedicated to the memory of my friend, mentor, and major professor for my master's degree at Cornell University, Robert Glen Mower (1928 - 2005)

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Behind The Iron Curtain II

     From early April to early May, 1972, I had the very good fortune and grateful privilege to travel independently through what was then part of the Soviet Union and one of its satellites at the time, Poland. The occasion for this month-long visit behind the Iron Curtain (as this part of the world was known during the Cold War) was as part of my post-doctoral studies into the nature and relationships of the apple and its kin. This visit and, indeed, my other travels and work throughout much of western Europe from 1972 to 1973 were made possible with the financial support of the William Frederick Dreer Award, administered by Cornell University.

 Foothills of the Tien Shan Mountains, Kazakhstan SSR, April 1972. © Charles Albert Huckins

     Although much of my effort then as a young research botanist came to naught because my subsequent career took a more horticultural and, later, administrative turn, the opportunity to visit and photograph ordinary life behind the Iron Curtain during my off-work hours still has great documentary and sentimental value for me. Fortunately, a number of the images which I was able to capture on film have survived the many moves and turns my life has taken over the intervening years, and I am happy, finally, to be able to share some of those images here.

     All of the images in this and subsequent exhibits focusing on my time behind the Iron Curtain were made with a Zeiss Ikon B single lens reflex camera and a variety of 35 mm black-and-white as well as color films of the day. If memory serves me correctly, most of the images appearing in this particular exhibit were cast with Agfa film; a review of the film itself by an expert in such matters would be required in order to ascertain more particulars in this regard.

     Although my itinerary had to be planned and approved in advance of my visit to the Soviet Union and Poland, I was still quite surprised and pleased with the freedom with which I could make my own way between work places and lodgings, as well as wander on my own on weekends and holidays. Only in one place, and only in one direction at that place (the foothills of the Tien Shan Mountains, outside of Alma Ata, Kazakhstan), was I ever requested not to use my camera.

     And although I was surely viewed with some wariness by the local people, I felt free to photograph them whenever and wherever I wished, and did so, hopefully staying within the bounds of good taste and respect for others. After all, although I was “without portfolio,” I still felt keenly the weight of representing my country and way of life in a responsible manner.


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