FSU: Decoding the Enigma, Unraveling the Mystery, Solving the Riddle

Years ago, during the Soviet Union’s heyday under Joseph Stalin, there was a party slogan that went; “we were born to make fairy tales come true.”

I kept thinking of this as I traveled around the former Soviet Union taking photos during the 1990s. I wanted to capture a time and place on film. It was a time and a place that had been idealized and which I found never really existed. It always seemed tantalizingly just beyond my reach. And that’s why I titled my work Wonderland. A selection of images from the book appear in this photo essay, which, in its own way, commemorates the Soviet Union’s demise.

The Communist system was built on a dream, one that wanted to keep the citizens of the Soviet Union in a state a permanent childhood. Authorities never asked comrades to assume responsibility for their own actions. The state was the parent and sought to make all the decisions. When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the fantasy of that perfect world quickly crumbled.

Time, of course, alters memory, and for members of the older generations in the Central Asia and the Caucasus, there remains a deep well of fondness for simpler Soviet times. Their reluctance to confront history in an honest fashion leaves them vulnerable to infectious nostalgia for myths.

Editor's Note: 
Jason Eskenazi'’s photographs have appeared in such publications as Time Magazine and The New York Times. He first began photographing in the former Soviet Union in 1991. In 1996, he won an Alicia Patterson Fellowship for his work in Russia. In 1999, he received a Guggenheim Fellowship and was awarded the Dorothea Lange/Paul Taylor Prize for his work on the Jewish community in Azerbaijan. Several of the images in this photoessay are from his book "Wonderland: A Fairy Tale of the Soviet Monolith," which won Best Photography Book of the Year from POY in 2009.