Summer 2006

Photo-temptations in glamorous Moscow

Moscow Photobiennale 2006

The Sixth International Photography Month. 23 March–14 May 2006

With 24 venues, 90 exhibitions and nearly 150 participating photographers, the month-long Moscow Photobiennale 2006 is as big as its host city. Within an hour of arriving in Moscow I attended one of the first private views at the über-trendy GUM department store. Here among the designer fashions of Kenzo, Moschino and Burberry were the works of Gilbert Garçin, whose ‘Witness’ photomontages are created with glue and scissors rather than Photoshop.

GUM also played host to Federico Patellani’s ‘You are the Most Beautiful’. In his black and white images from the late 1940s and early 1950s, Patellani created a social document of beauty-contestant hopefuls, eager to escape the poverty of war-scarred Italy.

At the Art Gallery of the Bogolubov Library, photojournalist Patrizia Bonanzinga exhibited one of her most recent bodies of work ‘Road to Coal’, shot exclusively in black and white. Bonanzinga traces the path of the enormous, highly dangerous Chinese coal industry that runs along the Datong-Beijing axis. On her journey, she reveals and explores the human face of heavy industry with sensitivity and humanity.

A Chinese programme in Photobiennale 2006 reflects the growing importance of that nation’s photography. At the Art-Strelka gallery, Mia Jiaxin’s ‘Somnambulism’, a collection of large-scale, black-and-white portraits of young women taken late at night on a Shanghai street, are full of energy and intrigue, while the colour works of Hu Yang’s ‘Interior of Shanghai’ are more intimate studies of the city’s inhabitants and their personal spaces.

No Russian photo festival would be complete without at least one show by Alexander Rodchenko. ‘Photo conflicts, photo journeys and photo temptations’, at the Museum of Contemporary Art, showed the photographs he took on reluctant trips away from Moscow such as the documentary images of a Vakhtan lumber mill or the streets of Paris.

At a time when armed conflict is daily appearing in our newspapers and TV news programmes – from Darfur to Iraq – a collection of solo exhibitions at the Zurab Tsereteli Fine Art Gallery explored the subject through the eyes of some of the greatest war photographers of our time. James Nachtwey, Anthony Suau, James Hill, Simon Norfolk and Christine Spengler all have very individual styles of photography – from the large colour landscapes of Norfolk to the dark journalistic images of Suau – yet each photographer has produced a sensitive and compelling argument against war.

Continuing the theme of conflict, the AES+F group of Moscow-based artists showed one of their latest works, Last Riot, 2005, at the Central Exhibition Hall. In their large-scale technicolour images, AES+F mix fantasy and reality to create a virtual world whose imagery owes much to the graphics of computer games, where their young models play heroes, heroines and victims in an imaginary war.

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