it could get worse, you could have their job.

September 4, 2009

                  Arming ourselves with cameras, water and our best smiles, Azeri and I set forth to conquer ‘The Factory’-a structure, somewhere between Baku and Ismailli that sports 4 stacks and look wretchedly out of place in the dessert that proceeds Baku-we both had been eyeing the beauty for most of the winter, and had finally set aside a weekend to tick a few items off our photography hit list-in context photographing anything in AZ is tricky-the numerous times I’ve been accused of being a spy, chased by yelling arm waving fat men, chased by pissed Xanims, been mobbed by street kids, have, all in all made creating a few pieces art not easy, sometimes dirty, sometimes scary and generally a challenge.

[Warning: Tangent!!! In fairness though, there have been several odd situations while photographing in other countries, take, USA and my hometown of MPLS-one night out wandering due to sleeplessness, I happened to be shooting a few long exposures of an old grain mill (original, huh?), was approached by a Rent-a-Cop (who make up for their utter uselessness by providing endless amusement trying to look tough and smart) who in one breath accused me of being part of a ring of prostitution /meth production, pointed to my tripod and asked “What’s that?”. Convinced of his stupidity (since old ripped jeans, an ugly tee shirt and a camera is the latest in MethHeadHooker fashion) I told him to leave me alone and go away-muttering under my breath as he drove away that if natural selection hadn’t already taken him, the recent event would guarantee at least an honorable mention in the DarwinAwards.]

So we set forth-as many things in AZ are, there is no straight path to anything, making our best guess we boarded a bus in hopes that it would take us in the general direction of ‘The Factory’ 20 min later we realized we’d gone in the opposite direction and were in an outlying suburb of Baku that, from our bus windows was mostly a collection of markets selling gas pipes, door/window frames, car parts and the occasional engine. With nothing to lose, we jumped off the bus at an old gate that was guarding a seemingly promising spread of old buildings. Too late we realized, that guarding the gate was a house turned guard shack, that was occupied by at least 3 curious police men (shown by 3 faces smashed up against one dirty window)-the pull of interesting buildings was too great and we marched up to the door, surprising the men with our boldness. It took a few min, of smooth taking on Azra’s part to convince the police we really just wanted to photograph the mosaics we had glimpsed through the gate. 15 min later we left the complex, mosaic pictures in hand, snickering helplessly-the 5 men in the shack were guarding an old, abandoned, and disused (since ’96) chicken farm.


The ‘NiceTaxiGuy’ dropped us off at the ‘The Factory’ gate and with a worried smile, asked if we wanted him to stay and wait-assuring him of our determination to see ‘The Factory’ we sent him back to Summie with many a ‘Yaxsi Yol!!’ and proceeded to look for an entrance. Lacking the tabbie boots/equipment usually required for such mad moves as vaulting ones self over a 13 foot high rusted gate/climbing a wall of corrugated iron topped with razor wire, we snapped a few photos through the gate hoping that, as it usually does in the AZ, someone would wander over to see what the ‘foreign girls’ were doing, and that person would happen to have a key. Call it fate, or just bloody good luck, that was exactly what happened, only it was 2 young men, who not only happened to ‘guard’ the complex, but who also happened to be incredibly bored out of their minds-as the day we appeared happened to fall in the middle of their 3 day guarding stint-a stint, that we later learned, was void of any form of amusement outside reading the Koran and bludgeoning to death the occasional snake. Initially suspicious, the young men, quickly realized that giving a ‘tour’ would likely make the next few house pass swiftly and lift the dull stupor of watching 25 acres of left over soviet factory slowly rot away. We spent the next 2 hours wandering around the factory-the guys telling us their life stories and throwing endless questions our way-to ensure we had no doubt as to their manliness, they also gave several dramatic accounts of heroic snake battles, in which they, of course were the victors. Since there are only so many ways to photo pealing paint and rust, we ended the day sitting around a small table in their painfully desolate ‘office’ drinking chy with the stern look of HA in a picture frame watching us-survey says HA would have approved. Eventually working up the courage, the young men shyly asked if we would pose for pictures-figuring that a portrait swap was the perfect way to build cross cultural relations/understanding (etc. etc) we posed for mobile portraits, flashing our best pearly whites. Azra and I have portraits of the 2 young men, they are 21 and 25, both had never met a German or American before, they look much older, they try to look stern, but eventually crack smiles-they beg us to not leave, but we do, to the sound of ’Sag ol! at our backs, we make a graceful exit that is nearly ruined by a banshee Kamaz driver…

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