Guy Faulconbridge
For His Eyes Alone
The Moscow Times, January 21, 2005

As President Vladimir Putin speeds in his heavily armed cortege down Kutuzovsky Prospekt and Novy Arbat on his way to work every day, what does he see outside the window?

What does he see, and how much can he see? These are the questions at the heart of a new exhibition of photographs by St. Petersburg artist Dmitry Shubin called » Moscow in the Eyes of the President» at L-Gallery.

To find out what exactly Putin sees, Shubin took photographs of passersby while speeding down the presidential route, presumably without the hullabaloo that so enrages Moscow drivers.

Putin travels tough: The police clear the roads and motorcycles sweep ahead to block off side streets, followed by wailing security cars and a battery of offroaders (complete with highly visible armed security guards) tracking the president to either side of his stretch Mercedes.

The photographs — exposed by hand in black-and-white — show Muscovites going about their business, hardly anyone paying attention to the photographer. A point of difference from the president’s own commute: Had Shubin been in the Putin procession, more passersby would surely have glanced his way.

Shubin said last week that his favorite picture is of a woman looking directly into the camera from behind the shoulder of a blurred male figure. Another of his favorites, he continued, is a picture of a woman whose head is caught outside the camera’s frame.

The images resemble stills from a Soviet film, with pedestrians in their own worlds and barely looking toward the camera. And perhaps that is the point — they are not interacting with the president at all.

Shubin, very much the St. Petersburg artist, said that it is not up to him to draw conclusions about the president, but his comparisons of Putin’s sociability to that of Boris Yeltsin and Mikhail Gorbachev underscored the exhibition’s political themes.

«This is a person who is really cut off from life,» Shubin said. «If, for example, Yeltsin or Gorbachev liked to sometimes mix with the people and stop by the closest department store, then I don’t really notice that with Putin.» Shubin said that he does not think that the president’s lack of spontaneous mixing with his people has put the country at a heightened security risk.

In the opinion of Andrei Kudryashov, the curator of the exhibition, «It is almost impossible to see the real Putin because he is so far removed, so protected, and his i mage so well managed. But these photographs take us in the opposite direction — they show us what he sees.»

«Moscow in the Eyes of the President» (Moskva Glazami Presidenta) runs to Feb. 2 at L-Gallery, located at 26/15 Oktyabrskaya Ulitsa. Metro Novoslobodskaya, Tsvetnoi Bulvar. Tel. 289-2491.