A WEEK IN BAKU
In March of this year I was invited by the Nasimi District of Azerbaijan’s capital city of Baku and Azerbaijan’s Consulate General in Los Angeles to visit Baku and shoot photographs “from the perspective of a San Diegan.” Prior to my visit I, like most Americans, knew relatively little about Baku or Azerbaijan. A brief search uncovered some interesting facts.
Thanks to its strategic position on the Caspian Sea, Baku has a long history at the crossroads of civilizations, cultures and religions. Its strategic importance and its natural resources have led to Baku being fought over many times over the centuries, including a turbulent period during the Soviet era. In the early twentieth century, prior to the discovery of the Arabian oil fields, almost half of the world’s oil production came from Baku, making huge fortunes for the Nobel brothers, Rothschilds and others; and oil is still the lifeblood of Azerbaijan’s economy.
Baku’s diverse past was clearly evident throughout the city. Parts of it reminded me of an elegant European capital with elaborate 19th century facades; the Old City has its winding streets, fortifications and palaces dating back to the 12th century; the back streets feel more Middle Eastern in character; recently, innovative modern architecture is springing up in an impressive construction boom; and dotted about the city are more somber Soviet era buildings.
The population is predominately Muslim, but synagogues and churches can also be found in the city. Each religion has its adherents, but they seem to be moderate in their devotion, and tolerant and respectful of each other. Conveniently, a friendly “Salam” greeting works in every situation and at any time of day.
My stay in Baku coincided with the spring festival of Novruz, a weeklong holiday with celebrations throughout the city. I spent eight days there – long days of exploring and shooting from before dawn until well into the evening. Eight days is both a short and a long period of time: short because it’s impossible to capture the scope and variety of such a diverse place in just over a week; long because even after just one week I had accumulated a large trove of images and then faced the difficult task of selecting a mere 25 for this exhibition.
This show represents the images that I found interesting, moving or somehow illustrative of the character of Baku. There are many iconic sights in Baku that provide ample photographic opportunities. However, interspersed among the sights, I have included images that capture the feel of the place and the friendliness of the people. Even shooting the ground beneath my feet was an interesting and varied experience!
Baku was a relative mystery to me before this trip. Some of the mystery is lifted, but I feel that much more remains to be discovered.