David Bowie crossed the Soviet Union on the Trans-Siberian Express Train in 1973, check out the fascinating photos that document the historic voyage.
A mesmerizing exhibition at California’s Wende Museum titled “David Bowie in the Soviet Union” unveils a captivating chapter in the life of the iconic rock legend.
The exhibition showcases a remarkable collection of photographs taken by David Bowie‘s longtime friend and band member, Geoff MacCormack, documenting their historic journey through the Soviet Union in 1973.
MacCormack, who accompanied Bowie as a singer, percussionist, and dancer during the final stretch of his globally acclaimed Ziggy Stardust/Aladdin Sane tour, has now provided a window into this extraordinary voyage.
The roots of Bowie and MacCormack’s friendship can be traced back to their formative years at Burnt Ash Primary School in Bromley during the mid-1950s. The bond they forged as young boys, when Bowie was still known as David Jones, endured and grew stronger through the years. MacCormack became Bowie’s constant companion, accompanying him through the trials of fame and remaining by his side until the end.
The Soviet Union journey, immortalised through MacCormack’s lens, was born out of Bowie’s phobia of flying. Determined to avoid airplanes after a fortune teller’s chilling prophecy, Bowie suggested an audacious alternative—embarking on the Trans-Siberian Express train, traversing a staggering 5,772 miles along the longest railway line in the world.
MacCormack, armed with a Japanese Nikkormat camera, seized the opportunity to document the intimate moments shared with the legendary musician throughout this momentous expedition.
The photographs captured by MacCormack provide an enchanting glimpse into their encounters with enthusiastic fans and their revelries with soldiers and sailors along the way. In his series titled “David Bowie After Long Drinking Sessions on the Train (1973),” MacCormack candidly portrays the aftermath of boisterous nights spent on board.
Additionally, his lens captures the essence of everyday life on the move, with candid shots of a woman joyfully skipping rope on a train platform and Russian boys posing for the camera. Joining MacCormack in documenting this extraordinary voyage was photographer and writer Leee Black Childers, further enriching the visual narrative.
At the heart of the exhibition lies Bowie’s own creation, “The Long Way Home,” an intimate documentary filmed on 16mm during the voyage. This nearly eight-minute masterpiece encapsulates their participation in the grand May Day Parade in Moscow, seamlessly blending MacCormack’s photographs with Bowie’s footage.
To deepen the experience, the film program also includes a captivating 20-minute interview with Bowie conducted in the USSR in 1996 by Artemy Troitsky.
The exhibition, expertly curated by independent curator Olya Sova, who splits her time between London and L.A., is a testament to her dedication and the vibrant arts organization she leads, The New Social.
MacCormack’s photographic memoir, “David Bowie: Rock ‘n’ Roll With Me,” released in March of this year, chronicles the enduring friendship and creative collaboration between the two.
Aptly titled after a song co-written by Bowie for his acclaimed 1974 album, Diamond Dogs, the memoir serves as a poignant tribute to their shared journey.
Complementing the exhibition is a carefully curated playlist by the esteemed Los Angeles-based non-profit online radio station dublab. This musical backdrop further immerses visitors in the atmosphere of Bowie’s voyage and enhances their appreciation of the exhibition’s visual narrative.
The “David Bowie in the Soviet Union” exhibition at the Wende Museum is an enchanting tribute to a true music legend. Through MacCormack’s evocative photographs and Bowie’s intimate documentary footage, viewers are transported back in time, witnessing the magic and allure of Bowie’s historic voyage across the vast expanse of the Soviet Union.
The exhibition not only celebrates Bowie’s indelible mark on music but also pays homage to the enduring friendship between Bowie and MacCormack that spanned from their childhood days at Burnt Ash Primary School to the pinnacle of Bowie’s stardom.
As visitors explore the exhibition, they are invited to embark on a visual and emotional journey, tracing the footsteps of a musical legend who dared to traverse the Soviet Union on a train, capturing the hearts and imaginations of fans and fellow travelers along the way.
Through MacCormack’s lens, we witness the untamed spirit of Bowie, forever etched in the candid moments, the vibrant encounters, and the intimate camaraderie shared on that fateful journey.
“David Bowie in the Soviet Union” is not merely an exhibition of photographs but a testament to the power of friendship, adventure, and artistic exploration.
It serves as a reminder that even in the face of fortune tellers and phobias, Bowie’s unyielding creativity and insatiable curiosity knew no bounds. And it is through the vivid images captured by MacCormack and the remarkable documentary footage by Bowie himself that this historic voyage becomes an immersive experience, inviting us to partake in the enigmatic spirit that defined the legend.
Celebrate the audacity of one man who dared to cross continents, and marvel at the enduring bond of friendship that accompanied him on this transformative journey. It’s a voyage that reverberates with the echoes of Bowie’s timeless music and reminds us all to embrace the extraordinary in our own lives.
All Photos Courtesy of Geoff MacCormack and Wende Museum