Very best Of 2021 : Kharkiv School of Photography : The Gosprom Group

by Igor Manko

The Kharkiv artwork scene in the mid-1980s felt like a bubble completely ready to blast. With Gorbachev obtaining introduced Perestroika, the totalitarian Soviet state was grudgingly loosening its ideological grip, but the emerging freedom (and the liberty of creative expression as well) was however a moot principle to be outlined.

At this time, the community that was soon to be identified as the Kharkiv College of Pictures started off filling its ranks with new disciples.

In 1984—1986, several youthful photographers who named on their own the Kontakt group collected in Guennadi Maslov’s very small lab/studio beneath the roof of a person of the so-called ‘Houses of Culture’ — Soviet establishments that presented area for the various novice creative functions of the performing class. Theirs belonged to the Union of Development Staff.

They were being producing black-and-white photographs making use of the closed down aperture when shooting and the ‘point light’ when printing photos to obtain more sharpness and depth of area. They have been interested in documentary pictures and have been motivated by their renowned predecessors from the Vremya group, albeit to distinctive levels. They joined forces to continue and build the black-and-white documentary line of their senior colleagues’ artistic endeavors and to show as a group. “Nobody really thought that Perestroika would operate out, but we all favored the thought that we have been permitted to make a lot more noises,” Maslov remembers.

“My get the job done is a translation. It is an endeavor to translate the poetry of recollections and dreams into the verse of photography — an attempt to capture the fluid material of the subconscious, and put it on a relatively more secure foundation of photographic paper,” the artist remarks.

 “There is no ache here”, claims Boris Mikhailov, criticizing Maslov’s work at the dialogue desk soon after the Ukrainian Time exhibition (ArtHouse Gallery, Kharkiv, September 2012). And he is proper. Maslov’s (as effectively as the vast majority of the Gosprom team artists’) aesthetic grounds deviated from the “merciless documentaries” of their predecessors in lookup of finer compositional arrangements and additional philosophical attitudes. For Maslov, they stem from the Lithuanian images of the 1980s and the get the job done of Alexander Sliusarev, the head of the so-identified as Moscow Metaphysical Images group.

 Maslov’s illustrations or photos are sometimes spiced with a sprinkling of absurdity and grotesque so attribute of lifetime in write-up-communist societies. The artist’s irony is quickly recognizable in the haiku caption discovered in his Ukrainian Time picture book (2013, Hanna Property Books). It could provide as the motto to all the Kharkiv artists’ operate of the 1985—2000 interval:

 Hey, Socialism, previous fellow!

Burning down so quietly?

So silently right after all?

The team experienced manufactured numerous exhibitions when in 1986 Maslov, who was educated as a military interpreter, obtained a foreign deciphering assignment and still left for Ethiopia to gain money for a first rate camera. (He did proudly flash a model-new Nikon 301 when he returned 3 yrs afterwards.) His posture and his studio have been taken by a different team artist Vladimir Starko.

Meanwhile, the inventive activity in the city was gaining momentum. Numerous exhibits opened, at times in most inappropriate spaces like gymnasiums, cafes, theater foyers, and stairwells. Starko curated an exhibition of painting and photography on the Development Workers’ Home of Culture premises and was promptly fired for exhibiting West-affected formalist art alien to Soviet men and women.

The up to date audience browse Starko’s visuals as strictly anti-Soviet. His The Window collection spoke about the Iron Curtain which banned the Soviet individuals from accessibility to the rest of the earth. The Twinkle, Twinkle, Minimal Star sequence showcased the deterioration of the major Soviet symbol.

 “Photography is a mirror the camera is like scissors, it cuts out the section of fact corresponding with the artist’s perceptions, feelings, and even philosophy at the moment of pressing the shutter launch button. So any interference with the impression, cropping bundled, is a indication of inferiority as if the photograph itself is not excellent plenty of,” suggests the artist.

The group misplaced its artistic refuge but intensified its exercise. In 1987 the artist of the group Misha Pedan obtained a occupation at the Students’ Palace, yet another Soviet ‘big style’ invention. The very same 12 months the very first grand-scale exhibition of Kharkiv pictures (each the first era and the youthful artists), was organized by Pedan, attracting crowds of spectators lining up to enter a huge exhibition house (the disco flooring) of the Palace. The next working day a helpful Deputy Director of the Palace secretly educated Pedan that the exhibition, which violated a full bunch of Soviet taboos, was about to be shut down by the KGB. The artwork community resisted individuals makes an attempt. A community discussion was initiated, which salvaged the exhibit for 10 times and even further arose the curiosity of site visitors. The exhibition observed an unprecedented attendance of about 2000 website visitors daily.

Pedan’s 1986—1989 The Finish of La Belle Époque is a avenue pictures task that portrayed the decay of the USSR prior to its collapse in 1991, a series of pictures of the late 1980s Kharkiv, its dilapidated streets that no one cared to retain, its picturesque inhabitants who all of a unexpected located on their own out of the Communist Motherland‘s company embrace not understanding what to do with this unanticipated freedom.

 The starting of the Soviet ‘belle époque’ was marked with Sergei Eisenstein’s crimson flag ascending in excess of the rebel Potemkin battleship in the 1925 premiere of the movie. Battleship Potemkin was black-and-white, and the flag was hand-colored in every frame and each individual duplicate of the motion picture. Misha Pedan’s The Close of la Belle Époque depicts its close to-demise agony in 84 black-and-white pictures. In just one of the visuals, Pedan, in a token handshake with Eisenstein, manually colours crimson the flags on the Soviet-design mural in each of the 500 numbered and signed copies of the book, as if putting the flag down just after the sixty decades of its dominance.

It was right after the achievement of that period of time that the team artists could deservedly take into account on their own section of the Kharkiv College of Images. The group also acquired a new member artist, Sergei Bratkov, who was to turn out to be internationally acknowledged in the 2000s. Now they wanted a new identify to replicate the progress, and, soon after a dialogue initiated by Misha Pedan and Leonid Pesin, the team was renamed.

Bratkov has usually been interested in generating art exactly where “photography plays a secondary or utilized role” (T. Pavlova, 2015). His get the job done integrated positioning pictures in glass jars in a cupboard (We All Eat 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 installation in memory of 45 homeless people today that froze to loss of life for the duration of a chilly spell in Kharkiv). But along with these photograph objects, he created standard black and white pictures, collages, and staged photos.

 Bratkov’s No Heaven series (45 black-and-white photographs, 1995) is a incredibly own image of his family and himself. A caption under one particular of the visuals claims: “My Mother and Father fulfilled each individual other at the time of war. Dad arrived house on a 3-working day go away and satisfied a wonderful lady at a social gathering. He bought drunk and threw up on to her white dress. That woman became my Mother.”

 1996 Princesses touch on publish-Soviet mentality and women’s legal rights issues. 4 portraits of young ladies with reduced tights keeping semen sample containers in their laps and, apparently, awaiting A Prince Charming, were being manufactured in the Kharkiv Centre for Reproductive Drugs. The names of actual-everyday living European royal heirs are written on the containers.

 Bedtime Stories (a.k.a. Horror Tales, 1998) illustrated so-referred to as ‘Horror Verses’, black humor Russian folk poetry well known in the 1980s and ’90s. Below is an instance:

 A young pioneer was fishing by itself,

A maniac killer was all on his very own.

Oh, how the old male kept cursing, you guess

The pioneer’s badge obtained caught in his ass.

 A series of meticulously and theatrically staged illustrations or photos were captioned with the verses.

The Gosprom (Derzhprom in Ukrainian, abbreviated from ‘state industry’) Developing is the only internationally recognised landmark of the metropolis of Kharkiv. It was created in the late 1920s, at the time when Kharkiv was the money of Soviet Ukraine. Gosprom was constructed making use of the new cutting edge liquid concrete technological know-how and was an architectural monument to Soviet Constructivism that is now detailed in the background of globe architecture. It has constantly been the town image and, as this kind of, the title rooted the team into the Soviet earlier and connected it with the Kharkiv pictures existing and potential — or, so was the artists’ notion of the name and of their part in the Kharkiv College at the time. Nearly 10 yrs afterwards, Sergei Bratkov manufactured his Gosprom sequence to commemorate the function.

Affected by Boris Mikhailov’s work, Redko directed his digital camera at social challenges, but his perform is not that essential of Soviet realia. Rather, its humor and grotesque offer you an ironic search at the absurdity of daily life of the late Soviet a long time, its deteriorating condition, and the Kharkiv residents’ spirit to prevail over the catastrophe.

In 1988 another ‘grand’ exhibition at the Students’ Palace lived for only 4 days before staying closed by the Communist Get together officers, which resulted in Pedan’s shedding his task.

The Gosprom group stayed active on the Kharkiv art scene for various a lot more several years, exhibiting their perform the two domestically and internationally.

Pesin’s 1984 series refers to the well known novel by George Orwell and was in fact made that year. It is a reportage of a correctional facility for juvenile delinquents. To be permitted to get photos there, the artist experienced to pretend he was applying for a career as a photographer at the establishment. Afterwards, all through Perestroyka times, Pesin efficiently exhibited this do the job in Moscow, but when he risked exhibiting it in Kharkiv, it was right away confiscated. The upcoming working day the law enforcement arrived to search his darkroom, but with a buddy photographer’s aid early in the morning Pesin experienced managed to make copies of the 1984 negatives and experienced eliminated all most likely incriminating prints and films.

The commencing of the 1990s, economically and artistically a most tough time in Soviet and article-Soviet history, observed the group’s gradual, but inevitable disintegration. Some team customers ongoing to make art, some moved to the West, some chose other careers. Had it not been for the state collapse and the financial hardships that followed it, Gosprom may perhaps have seen a brighter creative foreseeable future, for instance, directing the team aesthetics into conceptual artwork techniques.

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

 “The will work of Gosprom artists, Igor Manko’s and Vladimir Starko’s in distinct, in some aspects perceptibly abide by the sample of photographic methods as portion of conceptual art outlined by Jeff Wall. Their characteristics — deliberate randomness, uneventfulness, and indiscriminate preference of subject matter subject, intentional amateurish high quality as opposed to artfulness — are emphasized by regime repetitiveness of motifs and a inclination to serial illustration. In just one of his polyptychs, Seascape with a Borderguard Helicopter (1990), Igor Manko pretty much estimates a conceptualist method of reduction of the item by marking it with an arrow pointing at a dot on the horizon.”

 The get the job done was built a person yr in advance of the USSR collapsed, in Jurmala, Latvia. The helicopter was in fact patrolling the Soviet border in the Baltic Sea, hence marking where by the Iron Curtain must have hung.

Igor Manko


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

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

Igor Manko — suspended his creative activity in 1994—2004 to deal with a language faculty.

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

Konstantin Melnik — deserted images by the mid-1990s.

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

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

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

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


To understand much more about the Kharkiv College of Photography stop by the system Kharkiv Faculty of Pictures: Soviet Censorship to New Aesthetics. The system is a aspect of the Ukraine All over the place software of the Ukrainian Institute and is devoted to the promotion of the Kharkiv College of Photography achievements amongst the broader intercontinental 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 National Union of Fantastic Art Photographers of Ukraine due to the fact 1992. He holds a degree in linguistics and is the director of a language university. He exhibited his photographic will work in Kharkiv, Kyiv, Moscow, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, and Denmark.