American photographer David Hlynsky reveals what's behind the Iron Curtain in his photographs of Soviet shop window displays

19 May 2015

American photographer David Hlynsky’s recently published book Window-Shopping Through the Iron Curtain is a rare glimpse into the consumer culture of a world in which consumerism didn’t exist.

The book consists of 170 images of shop window displays shot during the final years of communism in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, East Germany and Russia.

Hlynsky first travelled to the Eastern Bloc in the 1980s and was struck by the cultural and economic differences with the West that he encountered.

His images of everyday, details too subtle or mundane for many photographers at the time, now form a remarkable document of a bygone time.

Window-Shopping Through the Iron Curtain features the displays of a range of shops selling everything from cosmetics and clothes to food and military uniforms.

The images summon the particular atmosphere of shopping in the Soviet Union.

Advertising and product branding didn’t exist and consumers went untroubled by the burdens of choice.

Peering into the shop windows, we spy the distinctive visual culture of the Soviet countries — slightly lopsided ideas of taste and style, an aesthetic that feels awkward and naive, static and a bit neglected.

Window-Shopping Through the Iron Curtain was published by Thames and Hudson and is available to purchase from the publisher’s website.

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