In the spring of 1988, Seth Harper Goodwin made his first trip to the Soviet Union. Then a junior at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., Goodwin was fascinated by the history of Soviet Russia and signed on for a trip for Trinity students led by professor Samuel Kassow, an expert in the history of Ashkenazi Jews in Eastern Europe during and after World War II.
Goodwin had long been drawn to the history and art of photography and had been taking pictures since he was 12.
He took with him to the Soviet Union a Nikon FM2 camera and took hundreds of photos of the group’s travels to Moscow and Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), and to Vilnius and Tbilisi, the capitals of, respectively, Lithuania and Georgia, then Soviet republics.
A selection of Goodwin’s photos from the U.S.S.R. is now on view at the Norwich Public Library in the show “Images from the Soviet Union.”
There are some photos that jibe with the then-prevailing Cold War narrative: Soviet soldiers parading before Lenin’s tomb in Moscow’s Red Square, a young Russian woman in a fur hat, also at Lenin’s tomb, looking sharply at Goodwin as she realizes he is taking her picture.
But there are also the photos that show a less guarded side of the people of the Soviet Union. Young boys playing in the streets of Tbilisi, a woman in a baker’s hat seen through a window in Vilnius, a Russian Orthodox priest who sits serenely for a portrait.
All of the photos were taken 18 months before the November 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall, which gives the pictures a particular resonance, not only in light of events then but because of Russian-American tensions now.
Goodwin said in an interview at the library that although the students were given the talk about how to behave and what to expect when visiting the Soviet Union, and were assigned a “minder” who accompanied them on their field trips, no one ever tried to stop him from taking photographs.
“I never ran into any issues, people were happy to have their pictures taken,” he said.
On the surface things appeared to be as they’d been for decades. He was not particularly keyed in then to any rumblings surrounding the coming economic and political dissolution of the Soviet Union, he said.
Goodwin, who lives in Norwich with his wife and daughter, grew up in Cambridge, Mass. and spent summers in South Royalton where his parents had a second home. (His father Neil Goodwin is the author of the 2010 book We Go As Captives: The Royalton Raid and the Shadow War on the Revolutionary Frontier).
In the summer of 1989, Goodwin made a second trip to the Soviet Union as part of the Soviet-American Sail, a trans-Atlantic, round-trip crossing from New York to Leningrad organized by Soviet and American scientists both to promote peace between the two powers and to take air and water samples for environmental research.
During that trip, Goodwin said, he had closer contact with Russians and in conversation they were more frank about their unease about what lay ahead as a result of then-President Mikhail Gorbachev’s policies of glasnost and perestroika, which addressed, respectively, the culture of Soviet secrecy and intimidation, and Herculean efforts to reform and restructure the government and the Communist Party.
Both trips, Goodwin said, shifted his perceptions about what the Soviet Union would be like.
“The notion that the Soviet Union was monolithic, drab and gray, was completely false and blown out of the water. ... There was this complexity and cultural depth that was counter to the narrative in my head,” he said.
After college, Goodwin went into teaching, and taught English and history at Proctor Academy in Andover, N.H., The Sharon Academy and Hanover High School. In 2015 he left education to pursue his first love, photography.
“It was time to try something different with the second half of my career,” he said.
Goodwin, who cites such venerable artistic influences as Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans and the photographers of the Farm Security Administration during the Great Depression, has moved methodically into a career as a photographer. He has a website through which he sells his landscape and nature pictures, as well as works in a more documentary style. He also does portraiture, and blogs about photography at the DailyUV website.
When he looks at the photographs he took as a young man in the Soviet Union, he sees how open he was to new experiences. And it was a turning point in his life, a journey that paved the way for further travel and exploration, he said.
There is nothing like seeing something for the very first time, he said. “It gives me a creative jolt,” he said.
“Images from the Soviet Union” continues at the Norwich Public Library through Jan. 8.
More of Goodwin’s work can be seen at his website sethharpergoodwin.com.Openings and Receptions
There will be a celebration and Open House on Friday at AVA Gallery and Art Center to honor retiring Executive Director Bente Torjusen. The party will run from 2 to 7 p.m.
First Friday in White River Junction will include a few openings. West Lebanon resident Mary Jane Morse will exhibit her “Winter River” series of abstract oil painting in the Hotel Coolidge’s Zollikofer Gallery, as well as on the walls of the Briggs Opera House, the first time that the Opera House proper is being used for exhibition space. There will be a reception in the hotel for Morse from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday. The shows run through Jan. 18.
Two Rivers Printmaking Studio in White River Junction will host a reception from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday for its Holiday Print Show, where prints by studio members are on sale as unique presents for the holidays. There will be food, drink, music and, of course, art.
Over in Rochester, Vt., BigTown Gallery has opened a new show “Figuration,” which features the work of painter Lucy Mink-Covello and the collages and paintings of Mark Goodwin. The exhibition also includes the nudes and landscapes of Fulvio Testa. The shows run through Feb. 25. There will be a reception for the artists on Saturday, Dec. 17 from 3 to 6 p.m. The show of textile art by Randolph artist Bhakti Ziek in the “Projects” Gallery has been extended through Dec. 10.Ongoing
Arabella, Windsor. The gallery exhibits works by local artists and artisans in a variety of media, including jewelry, oils, acrylics, photography, watercolors, pastels and textiles.
AVA Gallery and Art Center, Lebanon. The annual holiday exhibition and sale continues through Dec. 24. The gallery will offer additional hours on Mondays, Dec. 5, 12 and 19 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday, Dec. 24 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Center for the Arts, New London. The Center is sponsoring the 2016 Regional Juried Art Show at the New London Inn at 353 Main St., through Jan. 28
Chandler Center for the Arts, Randolph. The annual Artisans Holiday Market runs through Dec. 21.
Converse Free Library, Lyme. “Paul Klee: The World Through My Lens,” work by the Lyme-based photographer, continues through Dec. 23.
Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Lebanon. The photography of Nicolas Doak; acrylics and pastels by Norman Rhodes; work by members of the Upper Valley Ship Modeler’s Guild; fiber art by Dianne Shullenberger; digital art by Gloria King Merritt and oils and acrylics by Prabhjot Kaur are on view throughout the hospital through Dec. 31. For information call the Dartmouth-Hitchcock arts program at 603-650-6187.
Hanover League Fine Craft Gallery. The autumn exhibition features work by ceramicists Robin Ascher and David Ernster, textile artists Rachel Kahn and Kathleen Litchfield, and photographer Rosamond Orford.
Hood Downtown, Hanover. The photographs of Laetitia Soulier are on view in the exhibition “The Fractal Architectures” through Dec. 11.
Kilton Public Library, West Lebanon. An exhibition of work by Enfield painter Penny Koburger continues through January.
Library Arts Center, Newport. LAC’s annual holiday Gallery of Gifts is open through Dec. 23.
Long River Galleries and Gifts, Lyme. “Of Transcendent Joy,” an exhibition of landscape paintings by the late Deborah Frankel Reese is on view through Jan. 8.
Osher at Dartmouth, Hanover. Photographer Thomas Urgo shows his work in “World Views” at the Osher offices at 7 Lebanon St., through Dec. 20. Also showing photography are Anne Baird, Janice Fischel, Nora Gould, John Lehet and Lilian Shen. Hours are Monday-Thursday 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Fridays, 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Royalton Memorial Library, South Royalton. Work by 20th century commercial artist Louis Chap is on view through Feb. 18.
Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, Cornish. The Saint-Gaudens NHS has closed its picture gallery for the season. The grounds are still open to visitors.
SculptureFest, Woodstock. The annual celebration of three-dimensional art continues. While some works have been removed, much of the show is still on view. “Grounding,” a show of site-specific work curated by sculptors Jay Mead and Edythe Wright, is on view at the King Farm. For more information, go to sculpturefest.org.
Tunbridge Public Library. Anne and Mitch Beck, of Royalton, exhibit their mixed-media collages through Jan. 13.
Two Rivers Printmaking Studio, White River Junction. Two Rivers member-artists are exhibiting work related to Northern Stage’s productions of Macbeth and A Christmas Carol in the lobby of the Barrette Center for the Arts, through December.
White River Gallery at BALE, South Royalton. “Touching at a Distance,” works by Brenda Garand, continues through Dec. 11. Hours are Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Or by appointment: contact gallery director and curator, Dian Parker at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nicola Smith can be reached at email@example.com.