lucida momenta
Uladzimir Parfianok

valery lobko. photography from minsk grant kester. a western view nadzeja karotkina. new belarusian photography nadzeja karotkina. lucida momenta

new belarusian photography
by nadzeja karotkina (


"nowa potografia bialoruska / new belarusian photography". photographic exhibition in state gallery of art in sopot, poland, 1994

Artistic photography Of Belarus is still very young. It has not derived from the vast experience of visual arts in general, and not photography in particular. Thus, lacking experience, it is not burdened with anything; its "virginity" guarantees the purity which allows the photographers living there, in Belarus, to perceive reality in their own, distinct and specific way. Belarus is a silent and patient land. It is the very nature that gives birth to this silence -- modest, however, exceptionally lyrical. The lesson on patience. on the other hand, was taught to us by a complicated and unfavorable course of history. Perhaps, this brief sketch will enable you, dear readers, to discover the sources of this strongly reflective mood so typical of our photography. You will not find any fireworks of emotions in it, nor will you find a blatant tawdriness or theatrical blasts of passion. The Belarusian photography rather "contemplates" than "impresses"; it analyzes life and makes a deep self-analysis simultaneously. It is wise and intellectual in its reflexiveness. It is also vulnerable and almost childishly naive.
I hope to convince you of this by presenting the photographers belonging to a group of contemporary art-photographers from Belarus.

The desire to achieve purity of a visual language in photography is a common feature of two artists Victor Kalenik and Alexander Uglianitsa. They are allured by the uniqueness and incomparableness of a photographed moment. Since the full development of every image happens within a frame of each shot, most often their pictures cannot be linked in series; each of them bears an individual artistic value.

Uglianitsa's compositions are firmly rooted in a social and temporary context. The unrepeatable character of the Bygone that is transmitted in a conspicuously visible detail endows the photographs with a great significance. Despite an ostensible lack of sophistication one can find in them a flash of, sometimes nostalgic, beauty of the irreversible moment and the aesthetics of a poetic play of spatial forms.

Victor Kalenik is reticent with words and ascetic in his choice of visual media. "I -- objective -- object" -- I think that this arbitrary formula constitutes a full expression of the artist's credo. He avoids colour and the abundance of technical tricks, his objective is a self-sufficiency of black and white photographic image.

Sergei Kozhemyakin found an allegory of a suffocating wrapping imposed onto an individual by social conventions in the narrative of anonymous negatives that had already fulfilled their role. In his series "Children Album", he fills an absurd, artificial entourage of children shot in photographic parlors with sharp social and psychological undertones. It is a strange game imposed onto adults by no less strange world -- what are its rules? The more grown-up a man is, the more clearly he sees these rules. The wrapping becomes a part of one's self. It conditions man's behavior and, consequently, his deeds.

This photographic series moves us and evokes a horrible supposition: they show only a tiny element of a great mechanism that determines an absurd carnival so destructive for the ego. Soulful, honest children's faces in a cheap and tasteless "frame" of always the same (!) costume create a subtle collective portrait of a society and present it to the viewer in a surprising perspective.

The issue of parlor photographs that look banal at the first glance is a constant inspiration for Kozhemyakin. He finds his place in the atelier next to a service-photographer, he makes photographs simultaneously with him; although, not necessarily at the same moment. By doing so he tells a witty and slightly ironic tale about a gaudy world of the "opulence" of the atelier accessories where everyone wants to look exceptionally happy. The most remarkable are those moments when people are not ready for shots yet and have not "floundered" within the decorations. They are still getting used to the "cardboard paradise", they still remain themselves for a few seconds.

Kozhemyakin succeeds in achieving the synthesis of objective reality and a detailed subjective observation. Thanks to this he gives his viewer a precious opportunity to look at the eclectic spectacle of everyday reality with an eye of a film director.

Galina Moskaleva's series "Memories of Childhood" is woven from invisible threads of a child's impressions. Photography is one of the few methods that allow us to fulfill our obstinate yearning for travels in time. The point is just to find a suitable "key" to oneself that we have lost in the depths of our adult, "real" consciousness. And the artist manages to find it. Delicately and with a great sensitivity, so typical of her, she divides the surface of a picture by means of multiplied image. By doing so she creates something like the very substance of memories. She explicitly presents the process of beating time and removing anything that is secondary and accidental with this careful attention that we sometimes pay to detail. The spontaneous, non-programmed use of colour adds irrationality to the series, which makes it lofty and deeply expressive. In the harmony of a fragment and a whole, as well as colour and monochromatic surfaces, Moskaleva finds this mystic borderline that both separates and links us with the irrevocably Bygone. And the Bygone will definitely meet us tomorrow in its new appearance.

The works presented by Alexei Pavliuts are subordinated to a peculiar and almost incomprehensible formula which can transform an inanimate object like a photograph into a thinking and feeling substance. If I try to decipher this formula I suddenly realize that the artist photographs not the object itself but rather its impact. In that do I find the secret of the fascinating paradox that characterizes works by this photographer. The hidden clash of a static space and internal suspense of a photographed object conveys, I think, an allusion to a subtly directed action in which an object -- whether it would bean amorphous light or a geometric figure -- yields completely to the will of the artist.

A sophisticated play of intellect reveals itself in the output of Uladzimir Parfianok. His works are always a contemplation, a scrutiny of the nature of human perception and, first of all, a reflection over his own ways of perceiving the world. "La musique savante manque a notre desire" -- these words by Arthur Rimbaud are not merely a title of one of his compositions. I think they perfectly reflect the character of the artist's pursuit for emotional content. The sense of this line carefully directs our imagination onto a suitable way which will lead us to the ultimate goal -- the discovery of the essence of this artist's oeuvre. He searches for a "strange melody" in the everyday reality and finds it in mundane objects by stretching their contours over the limits of our superficial, terse ability to cognize. We find this lack of explicitness very seductive since it evokes associations with our emotional experience. The artist deliberately avoids the clarity of image, and thus he achieves a certain isolation; he protects a photograph from a brutal invasion from the outside. The blurredness in his pictures makes the process of perception complicated, or -- to be more precise -- our ability to recognize objects. It is almost exclusively our feelings that are able to filter through such a "protective coating".

The series of works "... i po soshestvii svyatogo duhka rekshe po rusaliikh..." is not less interesting and extraordinary than the previous one. Parfianok undertakes the issue of paganism and thanks to this he goes deep into national mentality which is rooted within primeval, pre-Christian times. However, the author does not attempt to reverse the flow of time. This series is his endeavor to reflect over past cultural tradition by means of visual media available in contemporary art. It is his way to simplify form and achieve the lucidity of concept. The motif of an ancient worship of the Sun appears in a very laconic way here. The culmination of the worship was a pagan festival of the night of Kupala deity when divine Nature and human Spirit united into one symphony. Parfianok's photography is profoundly reflexive. It does not overwhelm the viewer; it only invites him to co-creation and promises a rich variety of experience to his mind and heart.

Sergei Sukovitsyn's inclinations go towards the enjoyment of life and eroticism. The artist observes the surrounding world through the prism of sensuality and leads us into the realm of surfaces and erotic play of forms that move our imagination. The author takes pictures of a female body in such a way that he creates an illusion of palpability and make us shiver. On the other hand, he presents architectural details with spicy bits of humour and reveals the infinity of erotic associations. However, we should receive Sukovitsyn's work neither superficially nor without reflection. I believe they contain a certain secret and elements of autoanalysis that forces us not only to look but also to muse. In one of his recent series, the artist begins a very frank dialogue with us in which he himself appears as a photographed object. The intimacy of an image repeated several times attacks us with the lack of distance between the author and the viewer. It transforms the process of the reception of this series into an act of mutual domination of a photographic image and the viewer over each other; however, the viewer is not always conscious of it.

Andrei Savitsky is a refined aesthete. Beauty constitutes a self-sufficient and independent value in his works. The artist creates a puzzling and unreachable world that beguiles us with an elaborate play of surfaces and the poetry of subtle associations with botanical forms. Savitsky's compositions require an association-biased perception from the viewer. They lack any clear-cut dramaturgy and explicitness of semantic content. This trait frees our imagination and creates an opportunity to an unrestrained contact with this "parallel world" created by its author. The artist's search for lexical equivalents of his works seems interesting. "EREDO", "ASKAWAD", "EKRIDOM" -- the tangle of these magic sounds lacking any comprehensible charge of content creates a certain analogy of a picture in our imagination. It enhances our reception and supplements the aesthetic system created by the artist.

Igor Savchenko's photography is Magic. Thanks to his penetration of a delicate tissue of Time, the artist changes every gesture and every look into a sign, i.e. into a complex philosophical code whose solution is lost somewhere in the Past and leaves us with only a little opportunity to join in the Experience, the illusion of Co-participation. In all but refined, slightly naive photographs from the past years, Savchenko finds this Essence that fills them with new life and interweaves them into the warp of today's world perception.

In one of his cycles the artist translated complicated inter-human relations into the language of gestures. He leaves only a hand of a person on a picture -- this allows him to achieve an extraordinary psychological clarity of images. Hands -- sometimes not participating, static, sometimes -- twined in an intricate dialogue -- introduce us into the mystery of unspoken words speaking softly about Eternity... A hand resting on an arm, or a hand hidden in a pocket breast -- the gestures so typical of the photography of before and after the War (the 30s and the 40s) attain a new meaning in Savchenko's works. They become symbols of difficult and tragic time of political repression and, yet, they do not seem a banal historical illustration. These photographs achieve a high level of universality thanks to the artist's interpretation and become symbols of a historical experience that has left a trace of panic in several generations. Savchenko utilizes physical changes that occur on the surface of a photography with time. He transforms them into apparent elements of visual language and uses them with a conceptual precision so typical of him. Cracks and scratches, often enhanced by a local colour, become the symbol of a transcendental manifestation of Higher Power, the sign of Providence in his works. The artist's conceptual symbolism can be noticed in his texts which can be only conventionally treated as titles of works. It is so because lines of a text accompanying his works carry equally deep semantic burden as a photographic image. Words. the graphic layout of texts and photographic prints influence and complement one another creating harmonious, aesthetically complete images in our minds that open a way to the infinity of Time.

I consider Vladimir Shahlevitch's series "A Nude with a Portrait" one of the best in his whole output. The artist skillfully applies form to balance between an ordinary story and almost subconscious erotic associations. Facial expression -- body expression, a gesture of a hand -- a "gesture" of intermingling surfaces and mutually influencing textures, these are only a few rules of this fascinating game. The colour is primitive and "physiological" in this case which only augments the paradoxical character of the game-like beginning of this series that seduces a viewer with the juxtaposition of directness and intellect, of refined eroticism and mere physiology, of truth and confabulation.

... Such are the faces of the new photography in Belarus. Looking deep into ourselves, we search for a silent shelter in the strata of the Past; in our endless seek for the new we turn towards the Future and in a rapture we frame the Present.


*this text was written for catalogue of "Nowa Fotografia Bialoruska" exhibition in Pan'stwowa Galeria Sztuki, Sopot, Poland (16.IX -- 23.X. 1994)
Curator of the exhibition Uladzimir Parfianok in cooperation with Ryszard Ziarkiewicz and Robert Rumas

Translated from a Polish version by Marzena B. Guzowska







valery lobko. photography from minsk grant kester. a western view nadzeja karotkina. new belarusian photographynadzeja karotkina. lucida momenta

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