Window-Shopping Through the Iron Curtain

Krakow, Poland, 1988, Three loaves of bread. Photograph by © David Hlynsky Image copyright © David Hlynsky

Towards the end of the 1980s, the political map of the world began to change with the collapse of the Iron Curtain that had divided Europe and the battle of East v West seemingly over.

The collapse of the Berlin Wall saw thousands pour across the border from East Germany into the West, no doubt struck by the brash lights and shops full of just about everything you could dream of.

Yet one man, David Hlynsky, went the other way.

He had, in fact, been documenting Communist Europe for a number of years, turning his Hassleblad to the urban landscapes he found, as well as capturing a tantalising set of still-life pictures of shop windows, which offer a glimpse of life in the old Communist cities.

In the introduction to a book of the project published by Thames & Hudson, Hlynsky relates his experiences.

He notes that the shops of the East "hid as much as they revealed about the real economy".

The arrival of new stock was passed by word of mouth, he says, which meant "advertising was replaced by rumour and gossip".

People in the know would stockpile items while they were available, then later trade for other goods.

Image copyright © David Hlynsky
Image caption Budapest, 1989

The shop windows had none of the bright lights and brand names of those in the West.

Goods were generic, there were not 20 varieties of the same thing on offer.

Yet Hlynsky says he "derived some pleasure from shopping in a landscape so devoid of glitz and and seduction", adding that, of course, he had a passport and could leave when he wanted.

Image copyright © David Hlynsky
Image caption Moscow, 1990, Meat

Poignantly, he also remarks that the West's own shop windows have now changed too, with the closure of many small shops in our High Streets, all replaced by large chains, both East and West united in consumerism.

Perhaps it is time for us all to record the shop fronts in our own cities, much as Emily Webber has been doing for a number of years.

Here's a selection of pictures by David Hlynsky.

Image copyright © David Hlynsky
Image caption Yugoslavia, 1989, Restaurant
Image copyright © David Hlynsky
Image caption Prague, 1988, Pedicure
Image copyright © David Hlynsky
Image caption Moscow, 1990, Uniforms
Image copyright © David Hlynsky
Image caption Moscow, 1990, Lipstick
Image copyright © David Hlynsky
Image caption Yugoslavia, 1989, Woman with hat graphic
Image copyright © David Hlynsky
Image caption Krakow, Poland, 1989, School supplies
Image copyright © David Hlynsky
Image caption Moscow, 1990, Angel with an empty cornucopia

All photographs courtesy © David Hlynsky.

Window-Shopping Through the Iron Curtain by David Hlynsky is published by Thames & Hudson.

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