Artist Blog

Every week an artist whose single image was published by Der Greif is given a platform in which to blog about contemporary photography.

Around the Russian Embassy

Jun 07, 2019 - Mike Osborne

When I began thinking about the work that would eventually become Federal Triangle, I was living in an apartment building in DC’s Glover Park. My living room, like the set of Rear Window, aligned squarely with the residential block of the sprawling Russian Embassy. A neighbor’s wifi connection was named in honor of our proximity: “Hi Russians.” The view was banal — people walking small dogs in a fenced parking lot — but fascinating. I never closed my blinds.

 

One night, while trawling Cryptome.org, a website devoted to issues of secrecy and transparency, I read that a house across the street from my building was not in fact a residence but an observation post from which the FBI kept tabs on comings and goings at the Embassy. A closely cropped image showed a skylight, a camera lens situated just behind the glass. The neighborhood was full of sophisticated camera systems; several were mounted prominently on light posts immediately in front of the Embassy’s from gate. Perhaps the skylight image, assuming it showed what it purported to, was from an earlier, more discrete era. Whatever the case, I thought about that camera in the skylight every time I passed the house. View from the Window at Le Gras updated for the End of History.

 

A couple of years later, in the last days of the Obama presidency, the US government seized several Russian properties and expelled 35 Russian diplomats from the country, part of the American response to Russian cyber operations. News media descended on Glover Park. Vans with diplomatic plates sped in an out of the Embassy gates. Among the onlookers, I encountered a man from New Jersey calling himself “Dennis.” He had come, he said, to protect the women and children inside.

 

After I photographed him against the wall of the neighborhood Whole Foods, he provided with me with a note that read: “President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, Sir: I just allowed ‘Mike’ from Texas to shoot footage of me. Keep his photos and video under the Russian Federation. Putin.”