Dr. Zhivago and his moody rail trips across the vast landscapes of Russia. The movie "Reds" and its inforgettable images of opposing armies comandeering trains in the revolutionary era of the early 20th century.
In modern times, railroads have long been associated with Russia and the former Soviet Union, their tracks a human attempt to link vast spaces and diverse peoples through ever changing times.
"I see the railroad as a circulatory system of the country," says Anastasia Kuba, a San Francisco-based photographer who wants to return to the country of her birth to photograph the old railway system and the life around it, before it is replaced with a 21st century upgrade.
"In Russia it is still a widely used way to travel long distance. Yet domestic airlines are becoming more and more accessible and I am wondering how long the railroad will keep its status. This is why I want to do this project right now."
Kuba is attempting to raise funds for the project via the online crowdfunding platform Indiegogo. Five thousand dollars would enable her to return to Russia, travel the rails and shoot for a month. Additional monies would allow her to stay on the road longer. Ideally she would like to travel for four to five months in order to capture the changing of seasons, and to make as many portraits and write down as many individual stories as possible.
"I want to photograph people I meet along the way, to write down their stories, to capture their uniqueness and beauty," she says.
Kuba, who is also a singer of Russian, Ukrainian and other folk songs and has a band (she sang at the JCCSF this year during a lunchtime 'Cubicle Concert'), came to San Francisco a decade ago at the age of 20. As she writes on her website, "Feeling lost in cultural and language differences, I turned to visual art as a universal way of self-expression and communication. That year, I began my life as a photographer."
She studied photography at City College of San Francisco, and has become known locally for her luminous, tasteful and extraordinarily tender portraits of women.
"The focus of my work has always been intimacy, vulnerability, strength and human connection," she explains.
Every year since her immigration she returns to Russia to visit her family. Living apart from her homeland seems to have sharpened her ability to perceive it as an artist.
"Each time I go back, Russia appears familiar and mysterious at the same time," she says. "Everything I see reminds me the most authentic part of myself yet seems new and strange."
During last year's visit, she conceived of her new project "Rail Road stories,"as one in which she could take her interest in intimacy and human connection on the road, or more accurately, on the rails.
"I am interested in beautiful landscapes that travelling by train will allow me to see and to capture," she says, envisioning "passengers, train attendants, morning fog, small train stations."
"More then anything I am interested in the intimate settings of a train cabin, which for the longest time allowed strangers to connect and to share their secrets with one another supposedly because they knew they would never meet each other again.'
The pilot photographs she shot on that trip are currently on display at Dickerman Prints, where she is a summer artist-in-residence. Although the facility prints from both film and digital files, Kuba chose to shoot her project entirely on film, using a vintage, medium format Fuji camera.
"To me film carries the same nostalgic quality as a railroad," she says. Of course, this format implies the cost of developing the film, as in "the olden days" of photography. She says that she is thankful for any support.
"I hope that this project will help people from my two home countries to understand each other better," she says.
To see more of Anastasia's work, visit her website www.anastasiakuba.com
POSTSCRIPT: As of July 30, 2013, Anastasia successfully raised enough funds to start on her project. She headed for Russia at the end of August to try and beat the approaching winter. Exhibits of her new work are forthcoming.