Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Sergey Chilikov: Missing the Spot.

I am a big fan of the Third Floor Gallery in Cardiff.  Run by volunteers and powered by three energetic and passionate trustees, it is a space dedicated to showcasing photography and widening participation for makers and audiences alike.  In the past they have brought us a varied programme that has included David Hurn, Rob Hornstra, Peter Dench and Lara El-Tantawy.  Work has been grounded in a documentary tradition which has offered visitors to the gallery the opportunity to consider the lives of others and the world around us.  The show Arab Revolutions (30 July – 4 September 2011) couldn't have been much more up to date, and marked the gallery as being at the forefront of contemporary practice.

What then is going on with the latest show, 'Sergey Chilikov: Selected Works'?  The image used on the gallery's advertising and the cover of the newly released book seems to be an homage to the 'saucy seaside postcard ' tradition of Donald McGill and tempts the visitor with the suggestion of semi-nudity and naughty humour.  It seems to promise an escape from the depressions of the recession and a little bit of photographic sunshine...  It says, 'come to the gallery and have a laugh...' Unfortunately for the visitor unfamiliar with Chilikov's work, the reality is totally different.  If there is any humour in the work, this viewer didn't get the joke.  The walls are covered with prints of naked cavorting Russians.  The staged images include an in-the-buff axe wielding boy child posing next to a naked young woman in an awkward pseudo-erotic pose.  Why?  This is what I kept asking myself.

Why did these people take off their clothes?  Was it to escape a really dreary poverty-bound existence in some out of the way rural community (the delapidated buildings in the background would suggest this context at least?)  Were their uncomfortable body positions chosen by Chilikov, or evidence of their insecurities about involvement in the project?  What is that Chilikov is trying to say, or is he just having fun getting other people to get naked.  Who knows?  Who cares?  I sure don't.

Visitors who have travelled extensively in Russia and who know something of Eastern European culture have assured me that the work is both political (referring back to the days when to make nude images of subjects was illegal) and humorous (although they couldn't quite explain the joke.)  The Russians have a 'different attitude to nudity': oh yes, based on this work, I would say that they do...  Seemingly, when viewed in countries once part of the former USSR, Chilikov reads very differently.  And, there's the rub: great art, be it poetry, painting, drama or photography should be able to travel.  Work that has meaning can speak to us, whatever our nationality or cultural background.  We may not always get the exact message, but we come away with our own understanding.

Roll on the next Third Floor exhibition...

Yes, it's a rubbish photo of the print: but I was trying to avoid the reflection of the light!

Spot the homage to Nan Goldin?  (4th from the left...)

Naked flesh also comes in black and white...

A little bit of Donald McGill!

Some Links that might be of interest to you:

Another side to Chilikov (one you get to see a little of at Third Floor:)

Scroll through Schilt Publishing's offerings to find Chilikov's book (you can buy a copy from Third Floor for £25.00:)

Q and A with Chilikov at the BJP:

The show - featured in Hungry Eye (see the postcard pic here!):

Buy your own Chilikov:

Russian Art that I do get:

Surely one of the finest plays ever written?

Icon of the Mother of God, Tikhvinskaya: British Museum Collection



I'll come clean straight away: I love Daniel Meadows.  However, before the gossip starts, I need to let you know that this is not the silly schoolgirl blushing kind of love, but one that is based on the following irrefutable statements:
  • He is a genuinely nice guy.
  • He has enough energy and enthusiasm to power a small village, should the technology be designed to harness it...
  • He can talk for hours about all things photographic without hesitation nor repetition and remain interesting...
  • He is a damned fine photographer – even though he no longer makes work.
  • He doesn't know how good he is.

So, taking all of this into consideration, I am DELIGHTED that Daniel Meadows is actually getting the attention he deserves.  With a major exhibition in Bradford, a new book by Val Williams and serious coverage in the BJP (he's on the bill with Joachim Schmid on November 18th at BJP's VISION '11 in London), a new generation can see and enjoy the work he made in the 1970s.  Strong black and white portraits from Greame Street (1972) and the Free Photographic Omnibus ('73 - '74) show that Daniel was ahead of his time.  Subjects look straight into the camera and then into the viewer's eyes; we connect with the individuals across the 40 years' distance and feel the privileged and trusting relationship that existed between the strangers and the photographer all of those years ago.  For this is work made with an open mind and an open heart; there is no cynicism nor exploitation here.

Meadows paid for the Greame Street studio and all of the prints using his university grant money (those were the days!) and the Photobus project was made possible because of his tireless fundraising.  No-one ever paid Meadows for their portrait and to see the fruits of those non-capitalist exchanges celebrated on gallery wall and in print after all of these years is a marvellous thing.

And this is why I love Daniel:  his photography really is a gift.

The 'Archive Wall', National Media Museum, Bradford.

Opening night at The National Media Museum, Bradford.

© Daniel Meadows

© Daniel Meadows

Waiting to get my copy signed!

Check out Daniel's website: 

The exhibition:

The book: 

Daniel, due to speak at BJP's Vision '11:

Val Williams and The Archive:

Pete James and Birmingham City Library: Collecting Meadows