“In a cityscape largely without commercial seduction, the banality of the shop windows underscored a real cultural difference between East and West,” photographer David Hlynsky writes in his introduction to Window-Shopping Through the Iron Curtain. The new book out this month from Thames & Hudson includes more than 100 shots of window displays taken between 1986 and 1990 in Communist Europe.
The American-born, Toronto-based Hlynsky took about 8,000 photographs in East Germany, Moscow, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Poland, and Bulgaria, concentrating on details of everyday life. This included the rather somber store windows, where a simple abstract ham hints at a butcher, or a pair of shoes dwarfed by a giant vase of flowers suggests more footwear indoors. A trio of bread loaves before a lace curtain has a restrained domesticity without being quite clear about what is sold. Nowhere are prices advertised.
With his Hasselblad camera, Hlynsky focused on the subdued commercial life in the Communist countries, where people needed and wanted to buy things but the Capitalist fervor of shopping in the West and its aggressive displays were absent. There are creative touches in the shop windows, like pajamas seemingly posed in-flight in Budapest, or simple wooden chairs and folded napkins at a table for a Yugoslavian restaurant. All of the displays are from the end of the Cold War, leading up to and right after the fall of the Berlin Wall, when the Iron Curtain was already crumbling to outside influences. The muted colors and sometimes bleak displays are reminders of the often limited availability of products in these countries at the time, but also are calm captures of the daily lives of an era of isolation that was already opening.