Photographs copyright of Alexey Titarenko, courtesy Nailya Alexander Gallery
One of the benefits of providing book reviews at the beginning of year, is that there are few new publication releases, thus a big leeway to discuss previously published books. Such as the opportunity to review Alexey Titarenko’s Photographs, published in 2003 by Nailya Alexander Gallery, from which this wonderful book is still available.
This is a delightfully designed and printed 9 1/2 x 9 1/2″ softbound book with stiff covers, it has 106 pages, with 56 black and white photographs, and a number of which with a slight sepia toning. The essay that accompanies the book, which continues through and provides us with a dialog about this body of work, is by Gabriel Bauret, with the text in both English and French. This running discussion through the book is in stark contrast with current photographic books, which are almost completely devoid of any constructional text.
The book draws from four photographic series that Titarenko created while living in St Petersburg, his place of birth. He has created a story about St Petersburg as it progresses from Leningrad, a part of the USSR, to the present and possibily its future. And to that extent, it is also about the people and society of Russia.
We do not clearly see the people who make up this society, as Titarenko used long exposures and camera movement, to capture a glimpse of their essense and existence. They are like ghosts moving through the pages of history. His intent is to try to bring an element of time into the images and create an emotional connection to the cultural changes that occurred.
In fact, Titarenko explicitly states that his work is very metaphoric and highly dependent upon his attempts to introduce the element of time into a two dimensional image. He wants to try to elicit an emotional reaction in the reader that might correlate with his own personal feelings.
The book starts with dark images that create a foreboding and depressive condition, similar to the dire living conditions of those trying to survive in Leningrad at the time. Then the political changes occur, which shapes the emotional stability of the city, now St Petersburg. First the emergence of new hope, then followed by sad disappointment, but eventually new hope again and finally a future with promise.
He has provided a unique vision about how it felt to live through those days, an overall feeling of what the conditions were like. His photographs are breathtakingly beautiful, and they touch my inner soul. I had seen a fair number of Ttiarenko’s photographs before reading this book, and there was that immediate recall and recollection of those first feelings.
The dark despair I felt while looking at his photograph of the sea of bodies slowly making their way up the stairs, touching the railing, a slow moving mass, going somewhere. Symbolic of a painfull march, slowly moving forward. Titarenko reinforced that mood with a predominate use of middle grays, with no white highlights to provide relief. A gray day, a gray period in time, one that you would not willingly want to return to.
As the book progresses, Titarenko brings in a new element, a subtle area of warm sepia tonality, to metaphorically signify Hope. Concurrently he slowly introduces a longer tonal range to his photographs, to reduce the predominate heavy, middle gray of his earlier photographs. Increasing the image contrast in conjunction with the delicately applied sepia toning, does provide an uplifting feeling, especially after the series of the darkly foreboding earlier photographs.
He then ends the book with large groups of people enjoying the beach, having the opportunity to enjoy life. Metaphorically, as they bask in the sun in their bathing suits, they seem to have far fewer burdens, as their loads are now much “lighter”. Like wise the prints have a full tonal range, implying a normalcy, with both the white highlights and some true blacks. It creates a place you would like to spend some time and come back to enjoy again.
Titarenko’s book also incorporates colors of red, black, pale blue into both the text pages and breaks, to further emphaise his story and intent. The additional color creates a wonderful elment to the book. The occasional full bleeds do not detract from the content of the images and nothing is lost in the gutters. Nicely designed and printed.
Best regards, Douglas Stockdale