“I’m ninety but I feel like I’m fifty. I don’t take any medicine. I never complain. I’m just happy to be alive. I tell people: ‘Start with what you have, not with what you want.’ Every day I dance for two hours. And I’m still really interesting too. I love politics and literature. I love the sciences. And I’ve got a boyfriend named Alexander. We exchange books. I don’t even know how old he is.” (Moscow, Russia)
Over recent days, wildly popular photo blog Humans of New York (HONY) has been bringing its 7 million-strong audience portraits and interviews from the streets of Moscow and St Petersburg.
HONY photographer Brandon Stanton is currently travelling in Russia, collecting stories from the diverse people he meets — some hopeful, some funny and some a little heartbreaking, from small children rocking the socks and sandals look, to a young woman who lived in an abusive relationship with a man who “expected obedience”.
“We were together for nine years. I was completely dependent on him. He was a strong and powerful man and he expected obedience. If he called me at 4 AM, and told me to meet him in Moscow, I was expected to go to the train station. He had a very strong energy. It was hard to argue with him. In the beginning of the relationship, I obeyed because of the pressure. But then the pressure just became a habit. It got worse as time went on. Eventually he stopped listening to me completely. I became so lonely. When you’re with someone who doesn’t care about your views, and has no desire to understand you, it’s worse than being alone. I still loved him though. I knew that he’d had a hard life. I told myself that I had to make sacrifices to build a family. But one morning I woke up and decided that I couldn’t do it anymore. If I stayed in the relationship, I would lose myself completely. I remember it was raining that morning. There was mud in the streets. And something told me: ‘Today is the day.’ That was two years ago. I’ve spent these last two years learning to be alone. I’m realizing the things that I like to do. I feel better, I look better, and I’ve been sharing more of myself with others. I feel like I’m finally learning who I am.” (St. Petersburg, Russia)
“I’ve worked in the circus my entire life. I studied to be a clown for many years. A great clown can make you see your own clumsiness. There are many famous clowns. Einstein was a clown. I always think of that famous picture of Einstein sticking out his tongue. That is a sign of extreme intelligence. Dumb people are always working on their serious face. They think a serious face will make them seem intelligent. But intelligent people don’t need a serious face.” (Moscow, Russia)
“I quit my job earlier this year. I’m taking a little time to focus on myself. I worked from nine to six everyday. I often brought my work home with me. I was getting sick, and anxious, and I wasn’t sleeping well. But I could never accept my weaknesses. I’d see other people working harder than me, and I’d think: ‘If they can do it, why should I feel tired?’ Eventually I pushed myself so hard that I became depressed. One reason I couldn’t slow down is because my entire family is hard working. Both my parents are architects. My grandfather is an engineer. The importance of hard work has been passed down through the generations. I think the entire country is afraid to stop working. There have been so many hard times. There’s been so much hunger. For so long we had to work all the time just to survive. Even though things are better now, that’s a difficult to psychology to escape. I’m starting to interview for new jobs. But I’m asking different questions. Money is the last thing I worry about. I’m much more interested in the schedule.” (St. Petersburg, Russia)