Close and Far Russian Photography Now
Warwick Arts Centre
University of Warwick
I visited the exhibition on Saturday 7th February 2015.
The exhibition featured work by contemporary Russian artists and re-discovered work by the Russian pre-Revolutionary photographer Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorsky.
Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorsky (1863-1944)
Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorsky was commissioned by Tsar Nicholas II to record his expansive empire, something Prokudin-Gorsky had long aspired to achieve. From an aristocratic family he was at the forefront of the development of colour photography. He set up a studio in St Petersburg in 1901 , and in 1902 spent six weeks in Berlin studying the colour process with Adolf Mieth , the foremost practitioner of colour photography of the time. A colour portrait of Leo Tolstoy in 1908 ensured Prokudin-Gorsky’s recognition helping him gain the patronage he needed to travel across the diverse Russian landscape. Between 1909 and 1915 he travelled Russia’s vast landscape , a pioneer who captured images of a people and place that were previously un-recorded and unknown.
The images , about 4×6 , were beautiful to look at with their rich deeply saturated tones and look thoroughly modern . I found it hard to believe they had been taken over 100 years ago. The method he used is know as colour separation or three-colour photography. Three exposures of each subject , at about one second intervals , were made on a glass plate that was re-positioned following each exposure using a different colour filter , red , blue or green. His subjects would have needed to stand incredibly still to avoid becoming a mere blur.
Prokudin-Gorsky was only able to travel extensively with the Tsars’s explicit authorisation and similarly prior to the collapse of the Soviet regime travel was still extremely difficult. Photography was heavily restricted and what could be recorded was censored. Hence between 1917 and 1980 , unlike the photography of the British and American documentarists during this period , there is very little Russian imagery of the day to day lives of the Russian population.
Olya Ivanova b1981 Moscow.
Olya Ivanov’s series Kich Gorodok (a Russian village North of Moscow ) recorded the typical inhabitants , their homes and landscape . The large scale printed portraits are in the style of traditional turn-of the-century professional photographers . Her subjects , in their best clothes and pensive faces , do not look that dissimilar to those captured by Prokudin-Gorsky a century before , almost suggesting that nothing has changed. But the kitsch interiors of the villagers homes reveal the advance of modernity , traditional icons of Russian culture share the space with glossy magazine images displayed on walls.
Alexander Gronsky b1980 Estonia
Gronsky’s series Pastoral was fascinating . The large images showing the gradual encroachment of the Russian countryside by building work , unsightly high-rise buildings , cranes and rubbish could probably be considered ugly but were surprisingly beautiful too. Local inhabitants are captured enjoying their free-time , swimming , sunbathing and picnicking amongst the debris surrounding them. Stylistically the images mimic the idealised pastoral paintings of the 17th Century but cleverly subvert them. For his series Reconstruction Gronsky recorded the activities of amateur war re-enactors . Each Reconstruction is made up of three individual images that when viewed together form an unbroken fragment of time.
Max Sher b1975 St Petersburgh
Palimpsest—something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form. Everyday day life in Russia is the subject of Sher’s series Russian Palimpsest. The images were printed small and I needed to get really close-up to in order to view them properly. Sher began his project of photographing Russian cities in 2010 , some never having been photographed prior to this. His analytical method of recording , what are not aesthetically beautiful places , reveals the influence of previous regimes on the Russian landscape.