The Local Identity of Contemporary Eurasia: Photographs by Valeri Nistratov
October 2 – December 29, 2014
Thursday, October 2
Exhibit Opening 6–8pm
Artist Talk 6pm
Valeri Nistratov: In Search of Miracles
Valeri Nistratov is a master at capturing the surreal or the incongruous in the world around him, be it Russians reenacting pagan rituals or Afghans encountering radical change in a post-Taliban world. He has a wonderful, often dark, sense of humor in his images that reflects life in a Russia after perestroika. His travels in Eurasia and beyond inform his compelling portraits of peoples and places undergoing transition.
Nistratov’s photographs are composed in such a way as to surprise, provoke and intrigue. Who is this young boy falling Icarus-like through the air? Why are these women in head scarves studying diagrams of female anatomy? What is the connection between household appliances arranged in the snow and the munitions factory in the background? And the military figures tilting bottles up into the sky, where are they headed?
We can’t pretend to fully read Nistratov’s images, so distant are we from the realities found in them, yet knowing context is not requisite to our engagement. To learn that the woman with a special talent for balancing spoons on her body is accomplishing this feat in below-zero conditions is cool to know, but this knowledge only adds resonance to this delightful Fellini-esque portrait.
At times, a photograph brings to mind the work of an earlier artist. The photos of a bus bearing curious messages, for example, recall Walker Evans. Nistratov acknowledges these ties. “It was impossible,” he notes, “to avoid the influence of Cartier-Bresson or W. Eugene Smith and the general humanistic tradition in photography of the 20th century.” Filmmakers like Tarkovsky, Godard, Wenders and Tanner also helped shape his aesthetic.
Nistratov is often inspired to start shooting by something “that repels or…that needs to be photographed.” The process, he states, always involves “intuition, reflexes and the search for a miracle.” Sometimes, he adds, “God gives me gifts for my patience.”
Some of these gifts are featured in this remarkable exhibition. Thanks to the Maine Museum of Photographic Arts for introducing us to a modern master.
Carl Little has written about photography for Art New England, Art in America and other publications. He lives on Mount Desert Island.
*Citations are from email correspondence with the artist, August 2014
The local identity, mentality, consciousness of the post-soviet people and their social environment and its vast territories are the main focus of Valeri Nistratov's artistic research. Travels to Afghanistan, Moldavia, Perm, Xuar and Mongolia inform his powerful perspective on contemporary life within the borders between Russian and Asia. Nistratov's timing and sensitivity to the subjects he photographs are what make the photographs special. The work is timely, personally political (these are every man) and important.
"This exhibition is a 21st Century example of post modern diplomacy through fine art". - Anne B. Zill
This exhibition was the idea of board member and photographer Judy Ellis Glickman and it is with her support that MMPA was able to make it happen.
As a documentary photographer, an important part of my work consists of observing a phenomenon, or an event, as it is stretches across a temporal rhythm.
I believe that even one photograph can be made into a story or a short novel.
My work is always an attempt to visually interpret, and establish definitions by exploring a vast part of the Russian territory through the surreal, the absurd and the humour noir ways of looking.
I hope the photographs I do lead the viewer to comprehend the details of Russian cityscapes and landscapes, and the people living in them.
Over several years I traveled around the territory of the former Golden Horde,Tsarist, Soviet, and now post-Soviet Russia, and became more and more convinced of the presence of “Asiatic” features amongst Russian people and their way of life.
The “Asiatic” elements find reflection in the consciousness, behavior, and character of the Russian people and society.
Sometimes I think that Russians are neither European nor Asian- yet a third type.
The inundation of Russia by emptiness (as opposed to the West, where space is seized and tamed from above and time is organized) makes me think about how time is broken down in Russia, and about the formation of space like some kind of cult .
Absorbing myself in the world of people living in big and small Russian cities, I see how, with great pains, the former imperial and Soviet inhabitants continue to reestablish themselves in a new socio-historical mentality.
This is due to the influence of geographic factors, the prevalence in Russian consciousness of a feminine basis (passiveness) over a masculine one, the worship of force, etc., which all form the contradictive nature and unpredictability of the Russian psyche.
Photography as a system of languages. It is not related to a particular author or school, but to spirits, distance, light, color and form.
My introduction to photography began with a Soviet Photo magazine. There was a series called ‘Opening of peasant resort in Livadia’ by Arkady Shaikhet. I was touched by the way the author expressed irony and absurdity. Cinema, literature and painting inspire me the most.
For example: Dovzenko (Earth), New Wave Films (‘Breathless’ and ‘Pierrot the madman’ by Jean-Luc Godard), Seven Samurai, Rashomon and Ran by Kurosava, and also movies by Paradzanov, Tarkovsky, Wim Wenders and Alan Tanner.
Technically, for a long period of time I worked with traditional black and white materials in the dark room.
Recently, for my documentary research, I am working with small digital cameras as well as analog medium format and digital printers.
Valeri Nistratov was born in Moscow in 1973. He became interested in photography during his childhood. Nistratov began his photographer's career in 1990 at the age of 17. From 1991 to 1993 he worked as a news photographer covering the dramatic events of the fall of USSR for international media.
In early 1994 he reconsidered his photography career and chose the path of art-documentary photography. While working on his personal projects, Nistratov travels much between Russia and Asia. The space, borders, and life of the people, in these regions are his main focus.
Valeri’s photographs have been exhibited in Russia, France, and the Netherlands, Switzerland, USA, MEXICO, South Africa, Japan, China and other countries.
The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow
Moscow House of photography, Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow
Perm Museum of Photography, Perm Russia
The Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center
Fulbright foundation, USA
Title Nation, collaboration book project with an American photographer.
His works are represented in private collections in Russia and abroad.