BY NATALYA REZNIK, KSENIA BELASH
A report about photographical course by Natalya Reznik in Fotodepartament (Saint-Petersburg, Russia)
The theme of the course
I decided to teach the course «Photography and Time» in Fotodepartament Foundation, because it is connected with the topic of my theoretical research. I work on the PhD thesis with a title «Aging in photography — forms of representation». I have also been exploring such themes as time, aging, disappearance of image, memory etc for a very long time in my own photo projects.
I asked my students to investigate why a question of time is so important for photography. It seems like photography could be measured in time units. How many second’s fractions could be «caught» by a photographer and saved from the disappearance and dissolution into the Nowhere? A photographer collects fragments of reality like Noah in his ark, saving them from disappearance in the Flood of Time. After all, time is always about dynamics and photography is always about statics, about «saving» something very vulnerable which is going to be changed in the next second and will never be the same.
© Natalya Reznik, ‘Looking for my Father’
Nowadays the philosophy of «the decisive moment» gives way not only to «the indecisive moment», but to something that happened in-between of two shutter-releases. It won’t be surprising if the very important and valuable, something that can not be gazed at, hidden in a photo album and taken to the future does indeed happen there.
The topic «Photography and Time» was open for the interpretation by students in their own projects: it could be maturing and aging, time which is created by a sequence of photographs, time on photos and time in-between them, interaction of past and future in photography etc.
The teaching experience
My students and me met once a week online during an academic year (10.2013- 06.2014) and talked for three hours and more. We used Skype for talking and chatting and Ustream for the video translation of my talk. It was quite hard time, especially, at the beginning, because I had almost no experience of teaching online at that moment. The situation turned out to be very different in comparison with the usual offline teaching. Most of the time I do not see my students, sometimes I even don’t hear them properly because of problems with their microphones. When you teach online, sometimes you have a feeling that one of your sense organ is suddenly broken. You cannot feel the atmosphere of the talk nor can you follow the mood and reactions of your listeners — you need to smile to your computer and talk to him as if it is your friend. It is quite unusual and tricky experience and, moreover, you lose a lot of energy. Of course, I would prefer to teach a normal offline course, but if students are located in so many different places (London, Malta, Moscow, Saint-Petersburg, Perm, Minsk etc), it is the only way to bring them all together. Also we had an opportunity to invite to our webinars photographical experts from other countries and to discuss with them students’ portfolios (among our guests was Steve Bisson, the editor of Urbanautica).
© Natalya Reznik, from ‘A Stolen Archive of Otto Steiner’. Exhibition Hourra, L’Oural! National Centre of contemporary arts (Ural Branch), Yekaterinburg. Photo by Alexey Ponomarchuk
During the course we explored the topic «Time» from very different points of view, tried to define and visualize «qualities» of time and to find the same qualities in photography as a medium. Students made presentations, wrote texts, read number of related books and articles and made a lot of practical assignments which are connected in some way with the topic «Time». The most successful realization of the assignments by each student was extended to a final project by the end the class.
A former student of the course «Photography and Time», Ksenia Belash, who is not only a photographer, but a writer and researcher of photography as well, analyses her mates’ final projects:
Alexander Agafonov. «Don’t blink!»
Time and memory are two main themes that underpin Alexander Agafonov’s work. In his latest project the artist turns his attention to the notion of nostalgia and explores photography’s intrinsic capacity to trigger involuntary memories in the viewer. The resulting work takes a form of an installation which includes a number of mounted photographs, as well as several teddy bears - reminiscent of popular Soviet toys - whose glittering eyes are immediately noticeable in the purposely dim light of the exposition room. The toys become the focal point of the arrangement: their heads turn out to contain intricate stereoscope devices through which the hidden photographs can be viewed in 3D.
© Alexander Agafonov
The images presented on the wall and the ones concealed within the bears are closely related: both are photographs (either found or taken from the artist’s personal archive) depicting children. However, while the mounted pictures are simple, straight-on and, more importantly, highly formal portraits, the stereoscope ones are just the opposite: they are candid, spontaneous, fragmentary, ambiguous, ephemeral, distant - and yet also uncannily familiar.
© Alexander Agafanov
The notion of engaging with the ambivalent, “not for show” and easily forgotten or repressed past is at the heart of Agafonov’s project. However, by juxtaposing the everyday imagery with the “official”, ideologically shaped representations of childhood he goes further than simply exposing the constructedness of a typical Soviet child picture. The artist looks for the points of connection between different layers of memory - conscious and subconscious, constructed and immediate, individual and collective. The bear, being a personal, nostalgically charged object from the past and at the same time a very common, easily recognisable cultural attribute of a Soviet childhood, becomes an embodied metaphor of such a point.
Tatiana Galtseva. «Forest»
Tatiana Galtseva’s project also deals with childhood reminiscences, however, in a strikingly different way. Her work, while visually indebted to surrealism, taps into a recent trend of creating stories where fact and fiction become intermingled to the point that they become virtually indistinguishable. Here such an interconnectedness is particularly justified, as the underlying narrative is centered around the notion of false and constructed memories. The act of interweaving fantastical, sinister elements into what could be otherwise described as “normal”, possibly plain pictures, is quite literal — the use of collage reveals the made-up nature of the photographic composites. However, alongside the eerie collages, the project, still largely in progress, is also going to include a fair bit of archival materials and photographs!
© Tatiana Galtseva
The story takes place in the allegorical “deep dark wood” - a primal, archetypal place which is a typical fairytale setting and also a well-known metaphor for subconscious. We cannot access any direct information about the events that may or may not have happened in that wood - all specific details have been carefully hidden, or rather replaced with symbols and signs that are left to the viewer’s interpretation. The central character (whose past and memories are being questioned) is also only to be guessed - his face remains obscure, most often concealed behind a collaged animal mask- which creates an uncanny and troubling effect. This is hardly surprising, because the project has been initially inspired by crime detection documentaries, a genre which has proved very popular in post-Soviet Russia. This brings an unexpected social, if not historical dimension to the narrative.
© Tatiana Galtseva
The project is yet to be finalized, but it certainly has a potential not only to entertain the viewer, but also to reveal something quite interesting about the myths that permeate today’s collective unconscious.
Lita Poliakova. «Landscape»
Lita Poliakova’s work defies an easy definition - she is one of those artists who tend to favor fluidity and ambiguity over fixed meanings or precise labels. Her latest project is a series of quasi- abstract, bizarrely shaped compositions which the artist refers to as “landscapes”. In fact, the “landscapes” turn out to be collages assembled from the pieces of torn up fashion magazine pages. Although it is impossible to recognize the original images, one quickly realizes that the fragments have been taken from ads or fashion shots depicting idealized female bodies.
© Lita Poliakova
Although the body/landscape connection has been quite a popular subject in visual arts, especially in photography, Poliakova is not looking for obvious parallels or graphic affinities. Instead, the point of connection between the two concepts lies in the fact that both of them are social constructs, shaped by the culture largely dominated by the idea of an unreachable perfection. In contemporary society the polished, photoshopped body has become a kind of an “idyll” - something to admire and to aspire to.
© Lita Poliakova
Given the theme, one could be easily mistaken in interpreting the artist’s gesture of deconstructing and mutilating the “idealized” body images as an act of feminist protest. However, Poliakova’s main concern is not the objectification of the female body as such, but the conflict between the “artificial” and the “pure”, or rather the disappearance of the latter. By adopting a playful, intuitive approach she literally points out the constructed nature of the image and creates her own subjective version of “picturesque” - rough, enigmatic and intimate.