Russian photography at Dave's
by Laura Bartlett
A show of Russian photography that would have been banned in pre-glasnost days is on display at Dave's Photo Emporium. Irakly Shanidze's intense nudes, Eugeny Safian's dreamlike streetscapes, and Katarina Tumanova's riffs on Renoir offer different but complementary images.
Shanidze says all three photographers want to provoke emotion any emotion. His own images include a Mapplethorpe-y crouching bare-breasted woman in a leather semiswimsuit and a series featuring a shaved-head nude with piercings wearing a big silver spider pendant and a see-through blouse. These images raise tired questions about pornography versus art but don't have much emotional content the ladies seem clinical and cold. One exception is a Madonna parody in which the pierced model cradles a stuffed bear to her breast.
Similar whimsy is seen in a shot Shanidze took on the fly when visiting Safian for a show of Safian's work in his adopted home of London, Ontario (the three photographers met via a photography website "an Internet success story," Shanidze dryly comments). En route to the show, the friends were fooling around with some outdoor shots. When they stumbled on an interesting stairwell, Shanidze whipped out an accordion he happened to have handy and Safian hammed it up. Dead End resulted a view of a motley fool accordioning away in a trash-littered stairwell. The shot suggests a street entertainer's desperate life, or, more universally, a world deaf to an individual's statement. Or, less universally, a wacky artist loving up a squeezebox in an Ontario stairwell that's enough for me. It works.
Safian seems to be a dreamier type. His Time Machines (above) is a magical-realism poem. Safian found an odd mural showing old-timey cars, carnival figures, and gangster types and staked out his shot for a full week. "I've seen him waiting for three hours on the street in the cold, waiting for some passerby to pass a mural," notes Shanidze. "This guy is something." Finally, circumstances produced
a car parked in front of the mural and a figure walking past. The resulting photograph is a dreamlike image of floating and mysteriously interacting painted and real-life forms. "Old cars painted on the wall, old man walking by, two men on the mural are neither here nor there. . . . It wakes up some thoughts about Time, doesn't it?" says Safian.
Tumanova's digital prints, e-mailed from Moscow and printed here by Shanidze, parody impressionists, particularly Renoir. One joyous self-portrait of Tumanova in a rose-corsaged dress shows computer-produced brushstrokes and colors, blurring the visual difference between photography and painting.
The three artists' work is on display at Dave's through Friday, April 4. (There's a reception on closing day, with a chance to meet Shanidze and Safian.)
[Originally published in April, 2003.]