Robert Stephenson’s book focuses on Moscow following the collapse of the USSR and provides a unique pictorial view of daily life in Russia’s capital city during the turbulent early years of transition to market capitalism. Original photographs and supporting narrative by the author, who lived in the city throughout the time, show how the old Soviet capital and its inhabitants adapted to a new capitalist reality as Russia opened its doors wide to new influences, ideas and possibilities.
This was a time of promise and protest, revolution and reaction, with Moscow at the centre of the changes. While Soviet monuments, cars and domestic appliances were abandoned and thrown on the rubbish heap, a new consumer society gradually asserted itself. New ideologies and beliefs challenged and clashed with previous orthodoxies. At the same time resistance to reform and western influence was also emerging, and new certainties were sought in the return of old, pre-Soviet symbols and values.
The book portrays the country’s capital in the epoch-making period between the fall of communism and the establishment of the modern Russian state and provides a new and intriguing source of original material for all scholars and general readers interested in modern Russian history and culture.
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Endorsements and Review Quotes
“This fascinating new book will appeal to both scholars and general readers. Combining a keen eye for detail with a sensitive and humanistic touch, Robert Stephenson’s original photographs marvellously capture the unexpected contradictions of the early post-communist ‘transition’ period in Moscow in the 1990s. Complemented by an insightful and witty narrative, these unique images portray the everyday effects of the tumultuous changes and reforms of the 1990s. Through changing consumer cultures, transportation, architecture, religion, folk life, the arts, and of course politics, Stephenson takes the reader on a whirlwind tour that sheds new light on the city during a turbulent period in recent Russian history.” Prof. Sarah D. Phillips, Director, Russian & East European Institute, Indiana University
“Perhaps an alternative title to this treasure trove of photographs and memories could be taken from the photo of the dilapidated main entrance to Moscow Zoo: ‘Comrade Visitors! First look at the old territory, then pass on to the new’. Thanks to Stephenson, his camera and his wit, we have here a wonderful vision of how Moscow was some 30 years ago; if you go there now and ‘pass on to the new’, you will see somewhere very different; yet not always better.” Stephen Dalziel, SD Writing
“This evocative collection of photographs is accompanied by a clear and sensible text. It vividly describes how Moscow made a surprisingly peaceful transition from Soviet communism to a flawed capitalism which greatly increased the prosperity of of its ordinary citizens, but left many of them deeply dissatisfied with the huge political, economic, social and personal changes that had been imposed on them with such suddenness.” Sir Rodric Braithwaite, British Ambassador in Moscow in the 1990s
“Each of Stephenson’s image glows with sensitivity and an extraordinary empathetic attitude of the city and its inhabitants at different times of the year and with great affection. For city researchers, travelers and urbanists, Stephenson’s book sends a message of hope: every city is vibrant and strong when its residents feel it. The book is modern pictorial cultural history at its best!” Professor Laura Kolbe, The University of Helsinki
“Stephenson has not said so in his book, but he would not be the first to recognize that, however rough the overall situation may be, there is courage and worth in very many individual Russian people. What seems — and often is — extraordinary and even dangerous from the outside can soon become quite normal once you are living in it.” Sir Andrew Wood (British Ambassador to Russia from 1995 to 2000), Los Angeles Review of Books
“The book is beautifully produced in landscape A4 format, and the photographs are vividly reproduced. I found myself reliving my own experiences during those turbulent years. […] This gorgeous book is recommended to anyone who wants to view, if not experience, how life carried on.” Bill Bowring, SCRSS Digest
“Stephenson was a chronicler, not a high-concept artist. This is not an Instagram-friendly collection of arty confections, but rather a wide-eyed visual diary of the times. […] As someone who still remember the 1990s with a complex mix of nostalgia, horror and depression, this was a poignant reminder. As a scholar, though, I think this is a tremendously useful visual source, illustrating and illuminating everything from the reconstruction of the city to the reshaping of its people, economy and culture, and greatly to be welcomed.” Dr Mark Galeotti, In Moscow’s Shadow
“I find myself asking—will it appeal to younger readers? Would I give it to students? The answer is yes; those who are doing a course on the economics or the politics of the transition period from 1985–1995; both those who have never been to Moscow or only paid a visit to the Moscow of today, will get a sense of the drama of the changing city.” Mary McAuley, Slavic Review
“Stephenson’s book allows readers to look at this period through the eyes of a foreigner who was neutral and open to all the unusual and contradictory images and events around him.” Alexandra Sukhoveeva, The Moscow Times
“This is an excellent book, full of vivid insights capturing a moment in time of great significance. You can see some of the photos on Stephenson’s website, but they really need to be seen in conjunction with his sensitive observations rather than with the assumptions that many of us have absorbed from triumphalist western media reports.” Lisa Hill, ANZ LitLovers
“It is a virtue of Stephenson’s book that, as he says at the end, ‘I have avoided the temptation in this book to compare the old with the new.’ Thus has he avoided propaganda, and also cheap nostalgia. Ergo, this is a book is for all Muscovites who lived through that terrible time. It’s a reminder of the duty those who survived owe to those who didn’t.” John Helmer, Dances With Bears
“‘We Are Building…’ turned out to be just as good (if not better!) than I had expected. Stephenson is a knowledgeable and entertaining commentator and his photographs are wonderful windows into the past. The book touches lightly on the subject of iconoclasm, as there are any number of statues of Lenin, Stalin et al that were pulled down or damaged or destroyed (luckily Mayakovsky seems to have survived).” Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings
“The ‘transition’ from Soviet Moscow to the modern city – captured so memorably in these images – certainly produced some striking examples of dissonance. As the skyscrapers of the business district rise ever higher, though, the visitor might feel that the transition is still ongoing, and that whilst no longer an outwardly Soviet city Moscow’s appearance and identity – like that of Russia itself – remain, if such a thing is possible, in a state of continual transition, with the ‘end point’ never entirely visible.” Peter Lowe, RUSSIAN ART & CULTURE
“Anyone who lived in Moscow during those years will enjoy this compendium. It will bring back many memories of the huge changes that hit the Russian capital and, indeed, disoriented many locals. A world which has now vanished. All the ubiquitous kiosks have gone and Moscow, at least the centre, is like any other European capital.” Martin McCauley, East-West Review
“A British IT expert who worked in Russia during the early 90s has documented the rise of the new capitalist state in a new book, and it’s fascinating.” Alexandra Guzeva, Russia Beyond