- Varia Fedko-Blake
In recent decades, new waves of Russian artists have emerged onto the national and international scene to inject innovation into the practice of photography. Breaking with tradition, these talented photographers have endeavored to reassess common modes of artistic expression – particularly in relation to Russia’s landscape, complex national history, and fascinating cultural identity. We profile ten Russian photographers to look out for.
Dmitry Kostyukov is one of Russia’s most prominent current events photographers. After studying at Moscow State University – where he continues to lecture today – he worked as a staff photographer for the Russian newspaper Kommersant and Agence France-Presse. Delving deep into conflict zones such as South Ossetia and Afghanistan, Kostyukov’s photographic works provide in-depth visual insight into political and social issues. In capturing some of the most compelling news images, he has rightly been included in many top photographer shortlists around the world. He now resides in Paris and contributes regularly to major international publications.
Born in the Soviet Union but raised in the USA, Nadia Sablin has grown up between two dynamic cultures. She continues to photograph her native Russia, most recently focusing on the small village of Alehovshchina, where her aunts live. The Two Sisters project is a series that depicts the microcosm that is provincial Russian life; the images follow her aunts’ daily lives, watching the ways in which they interact, eat together, and work in the gardens around their house together. In our age of industrialization and digitalization, these images offer a fleeting glimpse of an old-world Russia that’s hidden, and largely forgotten. Sablin’s work has been shown in prominent exhibition spaces across the world, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Griffin Museum of Photography.
Born in Moscow in 1981, Olya Ivanova‘s work has been featured in numerous group exhibitions and can be found in private museum collections. The young photographer seeks to capture the essence of Russia and its people. One of her more recent series depicts locals in Kichuga, a small village in northern Russia. These portraits provide profound insight into this private world, capturing each unique personality, and producing evocative images that expose the reality of contemporary Russia. Ivanova’s work brings us back to a country entrenched in age-old traditions and rural communities.
Alexey Titarenko’s work in collage and photomontage has made him one of Russia’s most prominent artists. Most notably, images from his City of Shadows series encapsulate the dramatic atmosphere of his native Saint Petersburg in the 1980s. Titarenko’s street photography merges the Russian past and present, creating powerful images through superimposed negatives, long exposure, and intentional camera movement. As a young photographer he became a member of the celebrated Zerkalo photography club in 1978, and his depiction of urban landscapes capturing the turbulent essence of contemporary Russia won him recognition around the world. Today, he lives and works in New York, and his projects repeatedly feature in major European and American museums.
Born in Estonia and based in Latvia, Alexander Gronsky is best known for his photographs of Russia’s landscape. In his 20s, he covered the former USSR as a press photographer for various media sources in Russia and abroad. Despite committing the majority of his time to the commercial sector, Gronsky’s personal projects have attracted international acclaim in recent years. His images range from giving stunning perspectives of Russia’s most remote regions to focusing on concentrated populations on the outskirts of Moscow. His work explores the equilibrium between man and nature, and is both visually and emotionally striking.
Courtesy of Jana Romanova
Jana Romanova is a Saint Petersburg-based artist who works primarily with photography and video installations. Although much of her work focuses on the nature of Russian identity and the state of the former Soviet Union, her more recent photo series of sleeping couples drew international acclaim and went viral on the internet. Photographing her pregnant friends and acquaintances in her hometown, she captured them sleeping in the early hours of the morning, exposing a vulnerable state of human unconsciousness, as well as the engaging intimacy shared by loved ones.
Mikhail Rozanov is a Moscow-based photographer who produces black and white images of isolated provinces. With projects focused on locations as distant as Antarctica and Mongolia, his work explores the majesty of the world’s open, untouched spaces. His refined, minimalist technique largely remains true to the traditions of Saint Petersburg’s New Academy of Fine Arts, proving that less is more. Alongside his interest in landscape photography, Rozanov’s preoccupation with the architecture and industrial structures of Soviet Russia has invited comparisons to the neo-classical influences of Soviet artist Alexander Rodchenko. In a similar manner, he also illustrates the grand traditions of Russian design, formidably intertwined with the rich heritage of Soviet building.
A self-taught photographer, Elena Chernyshova captures individuals and communities undergoing social and political change. In 2011, she was awarded a grant to create a photo series following the daily happenings in Norilsk – the northernmost city in the world. Focusing on the cityscape and the people who reside in such extreme living conditions during the winter months, her work is a poignant documentation of the human condition and the state of Russia’s progress today. Since the project, Chernyshova’s work has gone on to explore the vast expanses of Eastern Siberia – particularly the Kupol Gold Mine – and the geothermal regions of Kamchatka. Her work has been featured in major publications such as National Geographic.
Despite being relatively new to photography, Margarita Kareva has already stormed the photographic scene with her stunning fantasy photography. Her projects draw on traditional folklore, and recreate its allure of romance and magic. Featuring stunning landscapes such as frozen lakes and thick forests, the forlorn princesses in her elegant photographs evoke the darker side of popular fairytales. From huskies to basketfuls of ripe, red apples, or the elaborate full-length gowns adorning her maidens, each image is visually captivating and sends audiences into a fantasy world of their own.
Now based in New York, Slava Mogutin is a Russian-born artist who was exiled from his native country for his outspoken writings and provocative artworks in 1995. Charged with “open and deliberate contempt for generally accepted moral norms,” he is the first Russian to be granted political asylum in the US on grounds of homophobic persecution. He has since authored several books, poetry anthologies, and essays, and his artwork has been exhibited in international spaces as well as in Vogue and The New York Times. Ever ground-breaking, he channels his political views and creativity through a variety of different media, including video, sculpture and painting, continuing to defy authority and conventional forms of expression.