What started as a truthful record basis and a data support has turned into something very much enriching for the soul. It has turned into an Art and, yes, I am talking about photography. Alexey Titarenko knows pretty much about this issue. He was born in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) and it was precisely in that city where he started to develop his ability and passion for this fine Art.
He began to take photos in the 70’s, and after being part from the Leningrad Photographic club Zerkalo, got in 1983 his Master of Fine Arts degree from the Department of Cinematic and Photographic Art at Leningrad’s Institute of Culture. “In 1970, when I turned eight, I received and old Soviet camera, similar to a Yashica, but very primitive. I became so interested in photography that I asked my mother to enroll me in a photography class in the local Palace of Culture, but it was very expensive for me by that time. St. Petersburg has inspired me a lot. I used to roam around the city and it reactivated my admiration and stimulus. It seemed that with the help of the camera I could grasp the city’s state”. He has received numerous awards and his work has been exhibited in many international festivals. But the aim here is not to swamp you with data and quotes. It is to present you his pictures. Pictures that talk by themselves. Pictures that keep a story for us at a simply glance. They show us people, cities, buildings tinged by shades, blur halos, rush, dirt and some other dusky adjectives. His aim is to show us through his photos that bittersweet and comunist Russia riddled by decadent aspects. Just as Dostoyevski used to do 200 years ago with his prose (by the way, one of his greatest influences, as well as Bach, Bethoveen and Sibelius among many others).
“The collapse of the Sovietic Union has dramatically changed my life for the better. In the past, you could not work as an indepent artist. You should obtain a membership in some state unions, but this was at the expense of supporting the Soviet Regime and that was unaceptable for me. I have witnessed the collapse of the Soviet Union with delight and relief and then I have obtained some financial support for my works and I could work freely, which was really important”. Black and white. This is his simple chromatic range. Then we add a length exposure and create a phantasmagorical and blurry deformation of the reality that fragments our daily treadmilles and turn them into a dreamy and obscure practice. Quotidian scenes doused with the surrealism of his Hasselblad camera objective: the metro, a beggar woman, a car in any Havana street, a picnic day…
“I attempt to express my thoughts and sentiments about Russia through the prism of this city and the images of its residents. St. Petersburg serves as a tool. All the techniques I employ are used to produce and accurate portrayal of my feelings about my city. I print all the pictures with my own hands. If you want to convey a certain mood or weather you need to take care of the printing, because it is there where you can get all these nuances. Black and white photogprahy is a special kind of art”. It can sound easy to describe, but not easy to capture in a photo paper. At least not with such a romantic and genuine view as this artist does.
He has many series of works where some cities are the main protagonists: “Venice Series”, “St. Petesburg Series”, “Havana Series”… But Russia is the apple of Alexey’s eyes and some beautiful and overwhelming Series as “Time Standing Still” , “Nomenklatura of Signs” or “The City of Shadows” depict the depressing and gloomy feeling that hung around the Russian people in that time of political instability. “Nomenklatura of Signs Series was created at the crossroad of two different epochs: the totalitarian regime and the Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika. It balances between tragedy and mockery, and consists of collages produced by the imposition of sevel negatives, traditional photographs and installations. “The City of Shadows” series came after “Nomenklatura of Signs” a bit unexpectedly. St. Petesburg is known for its summer “white nights” and its short dark winter lasts only a few hours. One day, int he winter of 1991 I was strolling down a street that it used to be packed with people, which was joyful and dynamic, but that day was depressed, empty and strangely quiet. I saw people full of sorrow in search of food for their families. They just looked like shadows. I began to take photos every day to try to capture this phantasmagoric feeling.I knew how to achieve this effect, as in my childhood I often took pictures by the long exposure process and then, in the late 70’s, I studied this technique 19th French Photography.
“Black and White Magic St. Petersburg “reflects the state of the city by 1995, when the situation had clearly improved, but anyway, it restored those romantic traces that attracted a lot of artists. Then Dostoevsky’s novel “White Nights” really inspired me a lot. It was like he read my thoughts. Brahm’s violin concert was also another important element of this work. It was a great blend where the principal image was the sun”. “Time Standing Still” is about that instability that came in 1998 in Russia after a period of calm. The country experienced a collapse of the financial system and a big devaluation and that brought people to awful conditions again. We came back to the struggle of survival”.
Many years of career, a great deal of talent, a sensitive vision and an unfortunately true conviction: “Photography is a young art that is poorly invested in as compared to cinema, for instance. It does not have such a mass media attention either and we do not enjoy the same social status as filmmakers or musicians. For that reason, some artists focus their talent towards other kind of representations where they can establish themselves easier and faster. Sometimes photography recruits the losers that were not able to distinguish themselves in other creative spheres. The combination of these factors sometimes makes photography less attractive”