The Finnish National Gallery
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We cannot discuss Byelorussian or Ukrainian photography without discussing Soviet photography. What was Soviet photography like, then? At the official level, it provided illustration and propaganda for the ideal society; at the unofficial level, it meant invisible aesthetics that developed under limited conditions and decoded Soviet myths. But resistance requires an enemy, What happens when the walls of underground come down - when everything has to be displayed in the open?


Ukrainian Boris Mikhailov was born in Kharkov in 1938, where he still lives and works. An experimenter and reformer, Mikhailov belongs to the Kharkov group of photographers. In recent years, Mikhailov has obtained international acclaim, holding a number of one-man exhibitions around the world, for example in the Venice Biennale in 1997. In Finland his works were displayed in 1989 at the Tampere Museum of Modern Art and during the 1997 Helsinki Festival at the Hippolyte Gallery of Photography.

Igor Savchenko was born in 1962 in Minsk, Byelorussia. He studied at the radio engineering institute in Minsk, graduating in 1985. After working for a few years as an engineer, Savchenko became a professional photographer in 1989. Most of his works are based on photographs taken by others that he processes, but lately he has also created landscapes based on his own photographs. Savchenko belongs to a group of Belorussian photographers characterized by experimentalism, intellectualism, and the questioning of artist as subject. Igor Savchenko lives and works in Minsk. In Finland he held a one-man exhibition in the Hippolyte Gallery of Photography in 1995.


Igor Savchenko:

from the series Group 1-4, 1989-94

18 black-and-white photographs, dimensions variable

Images of flesh and intimacy

During the Last ten years or so when the Soviet empire has split into a number of independent states, it has been argued, to make a slight generalization, that photography in the area has gone through three stages. In the late 1980s the dominating school was 'Neo-Realism'. The methods of traditional visual journalism were employed to show subjects that until then had been denied or were indeed absent in official art, such as private life. The following stage was conceptualism, which demolished the Soviet dogma of the automatic, unambiguous witnessing power of the photograph through questioning the authenticity of old photographs, for instance. Since the mid-1990s, photography in the former Soviet Union area has sought an individual identity and defined its relationship to Western visual culture. Instead of showing, these photographs tend rather to allude, hint, and ignore.

Igor Savchenko

Igor Savchenko bases his photographs on snapshots taken by other people from the 1930s to the 1950s. He re-crops them, dyes them, and makes scratches, revealing hidden meanings that would otherwise go unnoticed. Savchenko is intrigued by the life of a photograph and life in a photograph, which is why his photos carry a special relationship to time and memory. Private photos taken for souvenirs are nostalgic per se - the time lost in history remains eternally present in the frozen moments of the photograph.

Savchenko's photographs have been defined as conceptual symbolism. He has turned each gesture and each gaze in the photos into signs, into a complex philosophical code, the solution of which has been lost in the past. The unusual cropping resists the idea of a completed story: a strong feeling of intimacy is the main experience for the viewer. The characters, assimilated into each other and the background, only gain their outlines and existence in connection with others. Savchenko leaves only a hand in the photo, simplifying the complicated relationships of the people beyond recognition - into touch and caress.

In the West, Savchenko's photographs have often been interpreted as discussing the demolition of individual identity in the Soviet Union, which in its extreme form made people destroy their own family albums. This reading provides the hands presented by Savchenko with a new meaning. They become symbols of an agitated, tragic era of political oppression, without appearing as a banal illustration of history. They remind us of the fact that the memories of intimacy and touch cannot be collectivized.

Riikka Haapalainen