Photographer: Alexey Titarenko copyright 2003 courtesy Nailya Alexander Gallery
One of the benefits of providing book reviews at the beginning of year is that there are very few new publication releases at this time of year and a big leeway to discuss previously published books. One such opportunity is a review of Alexey Titarenko’s Photographs published in 2003 by Nailya Alexander Gallery. Amazing 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 and has 106 pages with 56 black & white photographs and a number of which have a slight sepia toning. The essay by Gabriel Bauret that accompanies the book provides a running dialog about this body of work with the text in both English and French.
There are 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 possibly looking toward its future. It is also about the people and society of Russia.
We do not clearly see the people who make up this society as Titarenko uses long exposures and camera movement to capture a glimpse of their essence and existence. His subjects appear similar to 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 occur.
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 called St Petersburg. First the emergence of new hope and then followed by sad disappointment with eventually new hope again appearing again leading finally to a future with promise.
He has provided a unique vision about how it felt to live through those days as 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 as a slow moving mass going somewhere. Symbolic of a painful march that is slowly moving forward. Titarenko reinforced that mood with a predominate use of middle grays with no white highlights to provide visual relief. A gray day during a gray period in time that one would not willingly want to return to.
As the book progresses Titarenko brings in a new element as 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 earlier series of the darkly foreboding photographs.
He then ends the book with large groups of people enjoying the beach and having the opportunity to enjoy life. Metaphorically as they bask in the sun in their bathing suits his subjects seem to have far fewer burdens symbolically their loads are now much “lighter”. The final set of the photographs have a full tonal range implying a normalcy with both the white highlights and some true blacks. It creates a place I 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 section breaks to create further emphases for his narrative. The additional color creates a wonderful element 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