Russian Photography @ Calvert 22


Calvert 22’s incumbent exhibition title seems to have taken inspiration from the 2012 exhibition of contemporary Russian art at the Saatchi. However Saatchi’s display amassed a variety of different media, with Calvert 22’s ‘Close and Far: Russian Photography Now’ showing purely photography and two films.

The use of the word ‘now’ could be misleading. Many of the images on display are almost a century old. They have been ‘modernised’ for the contemporary viewer with what looks like a bright instagram filter laid over the top. These filters run over the image as though the artist wants to make it explicitly obvious that they have altered the images. It could also perhaps be a sign of respect to the history of the scenes to remind that this is not a true depiction of the past. A further thought to consider is that these photographs were probably taken in black and white, and these bright colours may quite literally be the first time they have been seen in colour.

The subjects of many of these images are groups of figures in traditional and historical costume. Also on display are landscapes both new and old, decorated with modern infrastructure. It may be that the photographers and artists taking part in the show chose to use the filters to bring the older images into a similar context so as not to create the stark contrast that one might have expected to see. The new and old are displayed together as though it were normal to place things a century old alongside something that was taken less than five years ago.

Amongst the figures and buildings are some more obscure subjects. These include probably the most grotesque looking fish that I have ever seen, with wings splayed out, obviously just taken fresh out of the water. However the bright acidic colours make it somewhat appealing in a way that it probably shouldn’t. In one of the landscapes and the catalogue cover is what looks like a giant pear covered in fur, it is probably a variety of tree native to Russia which has been cut in a certain way but its very differentness causes much interest. My personal favourite image looks like the inside of a teenage girls bedroom with walls covered with tear sheets from fashion magazines from floor to ceiling. However among the western images of Vogue covers and American actresses are religious images of saints which look like orthodox icons taken from an iconostasis screen.

Downstairs below the main gallery are two films. One of which appears to be a performance documented from an aerial perspective. The man in the footage is moving slowly into different positions on top of what appears to be an abandoned building in ruins, perhaps as a response to the loss of the old making way for the new. Whatever the meaning behind it, it is intriguing.

This show is definitely different from anything on display at any of the ‘big’ London galleries. For anyone interested in photography or Eastern art I urge you to make a visit.

Close and Far: Russian Photography Now is on display at Calvert 22 until 17 August

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Lizzy Vartanian Collier is a London-based writer with a special interest in contemporary Middle Eastern Art. She has a BA in Art History and an MA in Contemporary Art and Art Theory of Asia and Africa from the School of Oriental and African Studies. She runs the Gallery Girl blog and has written for After Nyne, Arteviste, Canvas Magazine, Harper's Bazaar Arabia, Ibraaz, Jdeed Magazine, ReOrient and Suitcase Magazine. Lizzy is also curator of Arab Women Artists Now - AWAN 2018 (London).

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