Sunday, July 24, 2011

Alexander Goes Home

The only way Alexander Andrew Artway could ever step foot on Russia soil again was with an American passport in his hand.

Alexander Artway became an American citizen in July of 1927 – two weeks later he is on a ship sailing back to Europe and making his way back home to Gomel, Russia to see his Mother and the rest of his family. This would be the first time he has seen his family since he escaped off of the battlefield in 1919.

Prior to the Russian Revolution, the Artemiev’s (Artway’s Russian name) were a cultured, educated, accomplished, wealthy landowning family. Now, in 1927 all the properties were gone and the family farmed the one piece of land that they kept.

Alexander is the youngest son sitting next to his mother

To say that Artway might have been shocked to see how the family circumstances had changed would not, I’m sure, be an embellishment.
Artway's mother through the years

Alexander Artway made four trips back to Russia between 1927 and 1936. 

One of Artway’s visits was in the midst of the Soviet famine (1932–1933). Millions died and Artway’s family lived in one of the areas hardest hit – Gomel, Belarus near the Ukraine.

Stalin’s policy of collective farming ensured that all that was produced belonged to the government and farmers were killed or imprisoned if they ate even small amounts of food that they grew for themselves.

Jeanette, Alexander Artway’s daughter,  told me of letters sent to Alexander from his family in Russia pleading him to send food and money.

The struggle to survive is palpable in these images.

This family had fallen on hard times but they had each other.

Artway’s photographs can be seen as ‘family snapshots'. 

They can also be read as the Russian counter part to the documentary photographs being made at exactly the same time in our dust bowl states.

Devastating loss, brave-face attempts to make do, and a certain kind of stoic pride...