Cover photo: Petr Antonov, 2014 A model for a city (Trees, cars, figures of people, assorted barriers)

Past almost 10 years of work with contemporary photography in Russia FotoDepartament could possibly dare to be responsible for presenting a photographic community of the country in the process of its formation as well as for evaluation of its current state, lines of reality research, its requests and expectations. Also, it can assume responsibility for young and prolific emerging artists in Russian photoscene.

The active generation of 20-30-years-old photographers happen to lack heritage from their forerunners and don’t seem to display any interest in establishing any ties and common ground. This happened because of their giant leap forward in the history of photography, in less than 10 years, young artists have managed to keep up with the world context of contemporary photography. Hence, this visual field as well as the field of ideas and senses appeared to be even more engaging than a visual heritage of their own country or weighty underground self-educated artists who failed to go down in history at their moment in an isolated Soviet country.  

The years 2000 became the period when Russian photography became noticeable to international community, particularly due to a young generation of Russian artists who reached the leading ratings and curatorial selections. A young photographer from Krasnodar Margo Ovcharenko was selected for the exhibition reGeneration2 in 2010; Saint Petersburg based Nikita Pirogov wins a portfolio review in Bratislava, and a rush series of his exhibitions brings him world fame. A brand-new generation of photographers was introduced at a collective exhibition Territories of Desire curated by Ulrich Haas and Nadya Sheremetova on Backlight festival 2011 in Tamper (Finland). In 2012 curators Irina Tchmyreva and Evgeny Berezner present the whole season of the festival FotoFest in Houston, dedicated to the photography of one country but with a historic tree of generations and many contexts within. Julia Borissova who chose a photobook as her leading medium has been noted in annual book rating, and the projects Waiting and W by Jana Romanova went around many world festivals. Nikita Shokhov and Danila Tkachenko triumph in World Press Photo marked the formation of a new documentary photographers generation. Moreover, Foam Talent 2015 shortlisted Danila Tkachenko pushed documentary photography to more complicated visual forms. This approach was initiated by Alexander Gronsky in the mid-2000s and so were his projects rewarded by international prizes like Aperture Portfolio Prize, Linhof Young Photography Prize and many others.

We could mention more award-winning names but these are rather personal successes. Russian photography is not a dialogue or “school” but rather actions of independent individualities. However, for now we wish to see the space of Russian photography as an entire System. The latter would embrace a photography education system, support, exhibition experience and other forms of project realization for authors who treat photography as a form a art. Nowadays, increasingly more editorials and media cover Russian reality with the works of documentary photographers. The aspect of feedback is also included into above-mentioned System: magazines, independent blogs, where art-critics, photography researchers and authors have open room for dialogues and opinions. The system of support enables promotion and introduction of young authors on the international scene through their participation in festivals, exhibitions, book publications. However, contemporary Russian photography yet suffers from some restrictions: 1) of a professional kind: eventually, there are no theoretical and practical higher educational programmes in contemporary photography; 2) of an institutional kind: there are very few professional centers working in the particular sphere of contemporary photography, among them Multimedia Art Museum Moscow, Rosphoto, Rodchenko Art School as state institutions and FotoDepartament, MART Center, the Lumiere Brothers Center for Photography as independent organizations; 3) resources for development and even more and more ideology-oriented cultural politics of the country that unconsciously forms a rebel generation of authors who think critically and are eager to counter financial restrictions, instability, mass culture codes and ideological prescriptions.

On the one hand, an artists’ statement tends to become obsolete if it fails to come out to audience at the particular moment when suggested by artistic intuition. On the other hand, the statement appears to be timeless and topical, getting new senses in every new context. We could observe that nowadays there is a whole generation of photo artists who use the photography as a tool and define the medium as a part of their artistic statement, sensible and responsible. Moreover, these authors define two main criteria in their work: respond to the reality around them and at the same time, remain timeless.

One more important marker defining Russian photocommunity - borders. On the one hand, our “isolation” somehow helps the authors to switch to full independency, as we are might appear factored out of the big world of photography. Such an unsuitability leads to a complete absence of art authorities to follow. Nevertheless, if Russian photographers are noticed by international community, their work is unique and significant. We are not even tightly connected to the European field of photography, we observe things from afar, eventually appearing on contests, publications or festivals. Today, social networking has united everybody and we know who to become friends with but we don’t want but an equal communication.

On the other hand, the border question is not a question of territory but rather of a cultural unity expressed in space, language, continuity and memory. Photographers shoot their country and speak of their country not because it becomes harder to leave it. They find its widespread territory, varied climatic, cultural, economical and ideological zones appear to be our reality. Thus, we want to spend our time, energy and resources of a camera on exploration and research of this reality which authors refer through their work with memory, space of collective experience, history of their country, media, etc. They are eager to treat a subject and society with the purpose of communication between I and Other, they dispense themselves as a marathon racer: for a long-distance run that will transform themselves as well as their country.

During few following weeks, FotoDepartament will be honored to present authors, their projects and long-distance research lines, topics and tasks embraced by the interests of  contemporary Russian photographers. Stay tuned!

Nadya Sheremetova, curator, FotoDepartament