Best Of 2021 : Kharkiv University of Photography : The Gosprom Group

Yoshiko Yap

by Igor Manko

The Kharkiv art scene in the mid-1980s felt like a bubble prepared to blast. With Gorbachev owning introduced Perestroika, the totalitarian Soviet condition was grudgingly loosening its ideological grip, but the emerging independence (and the liberty of artistic expression as well) was continue to a moot principle to be outlined.

At this time, the group that was soon to be known as the Kharkiv College of Photography commenced filling its ranks with new disciples.

In 1984—1986, many youthful photographers who called themselves the Kontakt team gathered in Guennadi Maslov’s very small lab/studio below the roof of one particular of the so-named ‘Houses of Culture’ — Soviet institutions that furnished room for the various novice creative functions of the functioning class. Theirs belonged to the Union of Development Workers.

They were developing black-and-white photographs utilizing the closed down aperture when capturing and the ‘point light’ when printing images to accomplish additional sharpness and depth of discipline. They had been fascinated in documentary images and had been motivated by their famed predecessors from the Vremya group, albeit to distinct degrees. They joined forces to continue on and develop the black-and-white documentary line of their senior colleagues’ creative endeavors and to exhibit as a group. “Nobody actually considered that Perestroika would get the job done out, but we all liked the plan that we have been permitted to make much more noises,” Maslov remembers.

“My perform is a translation. It is an endeavor to translate the poetry of reminiscences and dreams into the verse of pictures — an try to capture the fluid substance of the subconscious, and set it on a relatively additional steady foundation of photographic paper,” the artist feedback.

 “There is no suffering here”, claims Boris Mikhailov, criticizing Maslov’s function at the discussion desk right after the Ukrainian Time exhibition (ArtHouse Gallery, Kharkiv, September 2012). And he is right. Maslov’s (as effectively as the vast majority of the Gosprom team artists’) aesthetic grounds deviated from the “merciless documentaries” of their predecessors in search of finer compositional preparations and a lot more philosophical attitudes. For Maslov, they stem from the Lithuanian photography of the 1980s and the function of Alexander Sliusarev, the head of the so-called Moscow Metaphysical Photography group.

 Maslov’s visuals are occasionally spiced with a sprinkling of absurdity and grotesque so attribute of lifestyle in post-communist societies. The artist’s irony is simply recognizable in the haiku caption observed in his Ukrainian Time picture book (2013, Hanna Residence Publications). It could provide as the motto to all the Kharkiv artists’ perform of the 1985—2000 period:

 Hey, Socialism, outdated fellow!

Burning down so quietly?

So silently soon after all?

The group had created numerous exhibitions when in 1986 Maslov, who was educated as a armed service interpreter, received a international deciphering assignment and remaining for Ethiopia to get paid income for a good camera. (He did proudly flash a model-new Nikon 301 when he returned three a long time later on.) His placement and his studio were taken by a further team artist Vladimir Starko.

Meanwhile, the inventive activity in the city was attaining momentum. Various reveals opened, sometimes in most inappropriate spaces like gymnasiums, cafes, theater foyers, and stairwells. Starko curated an exhibition of painting and images on the Development Workers’ Dwelling of Tradition premises and was immediately fired for exhibiting West-motivated formalist artwork alien to Soviet persons.

The up to date viewers read through Starko’s visuals as strictly anti-Soviet. His The Window collection spoke about the Iron Curtain which banned the Soviet individuals from access to the rest of the globe. The Twinkle, Twinkle, Minimal Star series showcased the deterioration of the key Soviet symbol.

 “Photography is a mirror the camera is like scissors, it cuts out the element of reality corresponding with the artist’s perceptions, thoughts, and even philosophy at the minute of pressing the shutter launch button. So any interference with the graphic, cropping bundled, is a indication of inferiority as if the photograph by itself isn’t very good more than enough,” claims the artist.

The group missing its artistic refuge but intensified its exercise. In 1987 the artist of the group Misha Pedan bought a career at the Students’ Palace, one more Soviet ‘big style’ invention. The same yr the first grand-scale exhibition of Kharkiv photography (both the initial era and the more youthful artists), was arranged by Pedan, attracting crowds of spectators lining up to enter a huge exhibition house (the disco floor) of the Palace. The subsequent day a friendly Deputy Director of the Palace secretly knowledgeable Pedan that the exhibition, which violated a full bunch of Soviet taboos, was about to be closed down by the KGB. The art group resisted those attempts. A general public discussion was initiated, which salvaged the display for 10 times and even further arose the curiosity of readers. The exhibition noticed an unprecedented attendance of about 2000 guests day by day.

Pedan’s 1986—1989 The Finish of La Belle Époque is a avenue photography task that portrayed the decay of the USSR before its collapse in 1991, a series of illustrations or photos of the late 1980s Kharkiv, its dilapidated streets that nobody cared to retain, its picturesque inhabitants who all of a sudden found themselves out of the Communist Motherland‘s organization embrace not realizing what to do with this unforeseen flexibility.

 The commencing of the Soviet ‘belle époque’ was marked with Sergei Eisenstein’s purple flag ascending around the rebel Potemkin battleship in the 1925 premiere of the movie. Battleship Potemkin was black-and-white, and the flag was hand-coloured in each body and each and every duplicate of the motion picture. Misha Pedan’s The Finish of la Belle Époque depicts its in close proximity to-demise agony in 84 black-and-white photographs. In just one of the visuals, Pedan, in a token handshake with Eisenstein, manually colors pink the flags on the Soviet-design mural in each individual of the 500 numbered and signed copies of the ebook, as if placing the flag down just after the sixty yrs of its dominance.

It was soon after the achievement of that period that the team artists could deservedly look at on their own portion of the Kharkiv School of Images. The team also obtained a new member artist, Sergei Bratkov, who was to turn into internationally regarded in the 2000s. Now they required a new title to replicate the progress, and, just after a dialogue initiated by Misha Pedan and Leonid Pesin, the team was renamed.

Bratkov has generally been interested in making artwork where “photography performs a secondary or utilized role” (T. Pavlova, 2015). His function integrated inserting pictures in glass jars in a cupboard (We All Consume Each Other, 1991), immuring illustrations or photos in a lump of concrete (A Parcel, with Boris Mikhailov), or freezing them in a block of ice (Frozen Landscapes, 1994, an set up in memory of 45 homeless individuals that froze to dying through a cold spell in Kharkiv). But together with these picture objects, he made common black and white illustrations or photos, collages, and staged photographs.

 Bratkov’s No Heaven sequence (45 black-and-white images, 1995) is a pretty particular image of his family members and himself. A caption less than just one of the photographs says: “My Mom and Dad achieved each and every other at the time of war. Dad came house on a 3-working day go away and achieved a lovely female at a party. He received drunk and threw up onto her white gown. That girl became my Mom.”

 1996 Princesses touch on publish-Soviet mentality and women’s rights challenges. 4 portraits of youthful females with decreased tights keeping semen sample containers in their laps and, apparently, awaiting A Prince Charming, were being designed in the Kharkiv Center for Reproductive Medicine. The names of serious-daily life European royal heirs are composed on the containers.

 Bedtime Stories (a.k.a. Horror Tales, 1998) illustrated so-identified as ‘Horror Verses’, black humor Russian people poetry common in the 1980s and ’90s. Here is an case in point:

 A young pioneer was fishing by itself,

A maniac killer was all on his personal.

Oh, how the old person held cursing, you guess

The pioneer’s badge bought caught in his ass.

 A collection of meticulously and theatrically staged photos ended up captioned with the verses.

The Gosprom (Derzhprom in Ukrainian, abbreviated from ‘state industry’) Making is the only internationally recognised landmark of the city of Kharkiv. It was built in the late 1920s, at the time when Kharkiv was the capital of Soviet Ukraine. Gosprom was constructed making use of the new cutting edge liquid concrete technologies and was an architectural monument to Soviet Constructivism that is now outlined in the historical past of planet architecture. It has constantly been the metropolis symbol and, as this sort of, the name rooted the group into the Soviet previous and linked it with the Kharkiv images present and long term — or, so was the artists’ notion of the title and of their function in the Kharkiv College at the time. Pretty much 10 decades afterwards, Sergei Bratkov developed his Gosprom series to commemorate the party.

Influenced by Boris Mikhailov’s operate, Redko directed his camera at social concerns, but his do the job is not that important of Soviet realia. Instead, its humor and grotesque supply an ironic search at the absurdity of daily lifestyle of the late Soviet decades, its deteriorating affliction, and the Kharkiv residents’ spirit to conquer the catastrophe.

In 1988 a different ‘grand’ exhibition at the Students’ Palace lived for only 4 days in advance of remaining closed by the Communist Social gathering officials, which resulted in Pedan’s shedding his occupation.

The Gosprom team stayed energetic on the Kharkiv art scene for quite a few far more many years, exhibiting their operate each regionally and internationally.

Pesin’s 1984 sequence refers to the popular novel by George Orwell and was in fact generated that 12 months. It is a reportage of a correctional facility for juvenile delinquents. To be permitted to just take shots there, the artist experienced to pretend he was implementing for a work as a photographer at the institution. Afterwards, all through Perestroyka moments, Pesin productively exhibited this do the job in Moscow, but when he risked exhibiting it in Kharkiv, it was promptly confiscated. The subsequent day the police arrived to look for his darkroom, but with a mate photographer’s aid early in the morning Pesin had managed to make copies of the 1984 negatives and experienced removed all most likely incriminating prints and films.

The beginning of the 1990s, economically and artistically a most complicated time in Soviet and put up-Soviet historical past, observed the group’s gradual, but unavoidable disintegration. Some team customers ongoing to make artwork, some moved to the West, some chose other careers. Had it not been for the condition collapse and the financial hardships that followed it, Gosprom may perhaps have seen a brighter artistic long term, for instance, directing the group aesthetics into conceptual art ways.

Oleksandra Osadcha, a researcher for the MOKSOP, supports this notion:

 “The operates of Gosprom artists, Igor Manko’s and Vladimir Starko’s in unique, in some elements perceptibly follow the pattern of photographic techniques as portion of conceptual artwork outlined by Jeff Wall. Their characteristics — deliberate randomness, uneventfulness, and indiscriminate choice of topic subject, intentional amateurish good quality as opposed to artfulness — are emphasised by plan repetitiveness of motifs and a tendency to serial representation. In one particular of his polyptychs, Seascape with a Borderguard Helicopter (1990), Igor Manko pretty much rates a conceptualist system of reduction of the item by marking it with an arrow pointing at a dot on the horizon.”

 The perform was produced a single yr before the USSR collapsed, in Jurmala, Latvia. The helicopter was in fact patrolling the Soviet border in the Baltic Sea, so marking where the Iron Curtain need to have hung.

Igor Manko


The artists linked with the Gosprom group and their 1990’s professions:

Sergei Bratkov — ran the Up/Down Gallery in the 1990s, then moved to Moscow, where by he teaches at the Rodchenko School.

Igor Manko — suspended his inventive action in 1994—2004 to regulate a language faculty.

Guennadi Maslov — moved to the US in 1993. Photographer and Professor of Photography at the College of Cincinnati, Blue Ash.

Konstantin Melnik — abandoned pictures by the mid-1990s.

Misha Pedan — moved to Sweden in the early 1990s. Photographer and curator. Teaches at the Stockholm University of Pictures.

Leonid Pesin — moved to Australia in the late 1990s.

Boris Redko — abandoned pictures by the mid-1990s and switched to painting.

Vladimir Starko — deserted pictures by the mid-1990s.


To understand a lot more about the Kharkiv School of Images stop by the platform Kharkiv College of Images: Soviet Censorship to New Aesthetics. The platform is a portion of the Ukraine Everywhere program of the Ukrainian Institute and is devoted to the promotion of the Kharkiv University of Images achievements amongst the broader worldwide audiences and its introduction to the all-European artistic context.

Igor Manko is a photographer from Kharkiv, Ukraine. He has been a member of the Countrywide Union of Fine Art Photographers of Ukraine due to the fact 1992. He retains a degree in linguistics and is the director of a language school. He exhibited his photographic operates in Kharkiv, Kyiv, Moscow, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, and Denmark.


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