Monday, 10 May 2010

photo icons

Icons 1960 - 80 is a photographic show currently running at the Lumiere Brothers Center for Photography, a new place which opened last month at Red October, with a bookshop, a gallery, and - I think - a lecture hall, library and café, (but which weren't open when we went). These are all black and white portraits and reportage-style images of celebrities from the days of the Soviet Union. And as usual, in my experience of Moscow exhibitions, hundreds of pictures are crammed in (nobody must be left out) with no room to breathe or to separate out the really fine work from the more mediocre.

But overall, very interesting. The work suggests an awareness of the most famous western celebrity photographers such as Avedon, Snowdon and Bailey, but filtered through very different conditions. As Google Translate cutely re-writes the Lumiere Brothers Photography Centre description: “Many of the photographers not only removed the elite, but they themselves belonged to her. How, for example, Vladimir Musaelyan, Brezhnev's personal photographer for thirteen years, or Yuri Krivonosov, thanks to which viewers will see rare shot Arkady Raikin in the studio ... High-class pros, they were outstanding personality, who put their relationship with the stars.” The famous, then, tended to have their own photographers (who were also celebrities), and while there is nothing too outrageous in these photographs, they are often both intimate and lively.

But the strange thing; whilst a 20 year period is covered nothing really changes. Everything has a kind of tentative 1960s look; you keep finding yourself checking the dates on the picture captions and being surprised/confused. Russia always tends to be shorthanded through the figures of Lenin and Stalin; people from other bits of Europe tend to forget the stagnation of the Khrushchev and Brezhnev years. Not only has artistic development here being thwarted by the threats 'cultural intellectuals' have faced, but also by the fact that very little 'happened' creatively in Russia across that 20 years; this whilst much of the rest of Europe and the US was being hit by flower power, feminism, anti-racism, punk, post-modernism etc., etc., etc. For me, this is what I notice most about these photographs, what gives them - as a totality - a strange, almost melancholic, feel.

I went to this show with Phil who is a photographer. See his work here.

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