How exactly did David Bowie end up on a lengthy train trip through the Soviet Union in 1973? And who gave him a 16mm film camera, even though he definitely was not supposed to be filming, especially in Moscow? And who is the cheeky friend behind the lens capturing Bowie in moments from the introspective to the exuberant, hung-over, and inspired?

david bowie soviet union

Leee Black Childers: Geoff MacCormack & David Bowie at the May Day Parade in Red Square, 1973 (Courtesy the artist)

Geoff MacCormack, also known by the stage name Warren Peace, had been friends with David Bowie (David Jones as was) since they were 8 years old — a friendship which ,as they got older and the ‘60s went into overdrive, was increasingly defined by a shared love of music. In 1973, Bowie rang his friend and drafted him into his backing band, the Spiders from Mars. After three years of song, drums and dance on stage and adventure off it, plus six albums, five tours and a feature film, MacCormack had a devastatingly unique photographic archive and a treasure trove of stories to show for it.

Geoff MacCormack: David Bowie on the Trans-Siberian Express, 1973 (Courtesy the artist)

The complete up-close and personal story of those formative years in Bowie lore (1973-76) is showcased in MacCormack’s appealing monograph, David Bowie: Rock ‘n Roll with Me (ACC Art Books), but the Wende Museum’s new exhibition, David Bowie in the Soviet Union, focuses specifically on perhaps the most curious episode of them all — that time they all ended up taking the train across the USSR.


“A psychic told him he was going to die in a plane crash,” MacCormack tells the LA Weekly, “so for years, he did all the traveling and touring exclusively by train, bus, car and boat!” Following the Japanese leg of the Ziggy Stardust/Aladdin Sane tour, in April 1973, when it was time to head out of Japan (Yokohama) and back to Western Europe (Paris), they settled on the Trans-Siberian Express. MacCormack picked up a quirky Nikkormat camera on a whim on their way out of Japan and learned to use it on the train — with David Bowie as his experimental muse and the dregs of Siberian winter giving way to a brassy, wet Spring as his backdrop.

Geoff MacCormack: David Bowie on the Trans-Siberian Express, 1973 (Courtesy the artist)

MacCormack’s photos of this journey show Bowie in a relaxed, playful stance, up for anything, and eager to see the other side of the mysterious Iron Curtain. It’s clear the mean are real friends, and actually there was an official tour photographer — Leee Black Childers — who was very much on scene when it came to more public circumstances. What MacCormack did was much more like any pair of friends having a rollicking, surreal vacation. They drank with Russian soldiers, took sly pictures of characters on the string of train platforms and byroads, and met and sometimes performed impromptu for tourists and fans — though according to MacCormack, very few people on the Siberian train had any idea who or what the Spiders from Mars were in 1973 Russia.

Geoff MacCormack: Skipping Lady, 1973 (Courtesy the artist)

Guest curated by Olya Sova, who had previously mounted versions of the show in St. Petersburg and London, the Wende Museum exhibition combines a suite of these photographs with a rather marvelous if rather shaky short movie Bowie made of footage he took himself with a contraband 16mm film camera. (Some of MacCormack’s captures show Bowie engaged in this jocular spy craft, shooting not only from the moving train window, but from vantage points above Moscow’s May Day Parade, which they made a point to witness.) The film isn’t available anywhere online, so if you want to see a bit of history through Bowie’s eyes, head to Culver City. The Los Angeles iteration also features a free, bespoke playlist by dublab’s Alejandro Cohen, which makes for a rather functional, if moodier than the usual, exhibition guide.

Geoff MacCormack: David Bowie on the Trans-Siberian Express, 1973 (Courtesy the artist)

MacCormack will celebrate the book at the Morrison Hotel Gallery in West Hollywood on Thursday, April 6; David Bowie in the Soviet Union is on view at the Wende Museum, 10808 Culver Blvd., Culver City, through Oct. 22; free. For more information visit

Geoff MacCormack: David Bowie in front of the Trans-Siberian Express, 1973 (Courtesy the artist)

David Bowie: Geoff MacCormack in front of the Trans-Siberian Express, 1973 (Courtesy Geoff MacCormack)

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