Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A portrait of the artist as an old man

I find this picture of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who died last Sunday at the age of 89, very intriguing. Almost ominous. The man behind him in the good suit is Vladimir Putin. He is visiting Solzhenitsyn in his home outside Moscow in 2007. Doesn't it look like he's about to murder Solzhenitsyn? What's in his left hand? Why aren't they looking at each other?

And then there's this cake just to Solzhenitsyn's right hand. But in the picture it appears difficult for anyone to get to it. The man in the wheelchair, still as a statue, doesn't seem to be in any position to cut and serve the cake, which is on a silver tray on a table against a wall. There are no plates. There are no utensils. Who is going to serve this cake and with what? It appears to have been placed there as a prop to make this seem like a more comfortable visit, but without the actual homey touches that would carry off the trick of giving the image this meaning.

No, I find this picture incredibly intriguing. Here's the Russian president skulking behind the Nobel-prize-winning writer, returned to Russia from exile and now old and frail. Not a smile to be seen from anyone. Pictures can convey a lot that is not true, and maybe the two of them had a wonderful time together. But, oh, to have been a fly on the wall and not just an eavesdropper on the photo op.

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