Vera & Donald Blinken Open Society Archives
Russia in Close-up
The collection of photographs are a discovery for the Hungarian public. The exhibition features a parallel series of works by two contemporary artists, Lev Melihov and Alexander Sabitov. The large-format photos offer a new perspective on the people, landscapes, towns and cities of Russia, which ordinary foreigners have so far known only through images in travel guides, if at all. The joint exhibition of work by L.M. and A.S. has already successfully toured Europe. Although the two well-known artists differ markedly in character, they have much in common in the artistic approach embodied in their photos. The sharp angles, the mastery of enlargement and reduction, and the total exclusion of stereotypes result in shots which are rough, poetic, objective and deeply personal.
The subjects of the thematically arranged photos come to life in accordance with the artists' own internal laws. The games they play with the original size of things, the interchange between close-up and distance, place the characteristic public buildings of Moscow and St Petersburg in a strange perspective, just as it does the deserted landscapes of Lake Baikal, of Sahalin, the one-time gulag island, and of the North Pole. The tall block-buildings and Eastern Church buildings in Melihov's photos reveal hitherto hidden details: a seemingly unimportant copper handle or a half-rotten wooden gate which, on occasion, become the center of the whole composition. In the Siberian marshes his camera reveals roads leading to the infinite, the Spasskij tower of the Kremlin, shot from a stunning perspective, stands as a well-built stronghold, symbol of eternity in an ocean of change. The polar sunset in another of his photos receives a strange tint as the light filters through the window of an icebreaker.
The artists do not make distinctions between the faces of people, cities and landscapes. All their photos are loving, tender portraits which, whatever their subjects, are free from pathos and exaggerations. All of them are suffused with harmony between the artificial and the natural, radiant with joy at the beauty to be found in every small detail of every tiny object. Both Lev Melihov and Alexander Sabitov are as comfortable to practise their art in Russia as they would be in any corner of the great wide world.
About the artists:
Lev Melihov (b. 1951) is the living classic of contemporary Russian photography, known for his minutely articulated language of form, for his intuition and for his instantly recognizable style. He took his first picture at the age of eight. His first individual exhibition opened in 1979, and he has taken more than 100,000 pictures. His photos have been shown in numerous individual or group exhibitions in Russia and abroad and he has contributed to more than 200 books and collections. His photos are collected not only by museums but also by individuals such as Solzhenitzin and Gorbachev. At the center of his approach lies the dialectic of the soul, the revitalization and reinterpretation of reality. His photos display a wide range of emotions, but he is mainly preoccupied with the link between beginnings and ends, with the representation of transitions and relationships.
Alexander Sabitov (b. 1959) is primarily a press photographer, who has been working for the Festival Center since 1994. His main subjects belong to the world of theatre and the arts, as well as Moscow and the North Pole, but he has also worked in Mongolia, Thailand and Algeria. He knows Moscow intimately, and has contributed not only to exhibitions but also to several catalogues and albums about the city.
The exhibition was supported by the Hungarian Ministry of Cultural Heritage and the Russian Federal Council on Culture and Films within the framework of the Russian Cultural Days in Hungary. The exhibition was organized by the Open Society Archives - Galeria Centralis, Hungarofest Kht. and Festa Producerközpont.