The Tashkent Photo Biennale 2012 organized by the Academy of Arts and the “Forum for Culture and Art of Uzbekistan” Foundation, which was held as part of the annual ArtWeek.Style.Uz event, cannot be imagined without folklore flavour, traditions and customs of the people from all over the world. The starting point for the soaring ideas was the Biennale theme, “Me in the World – the World in Me”, that provided an ample space for self-expression to more than 200 photography artists from 30+ countries, aspiring to conceptualize things they saw in the light of individual and personal perception of society.
According to Akmal Nuridinov, Chair of the Academy of Arts, the theme chosen for the Biennale is not accidental: everyone should have one’s “Self”. Everyone should create a world inside oneself – not only the artist, but also the viewer. In art, if one follows different “isms”, one can lose oneself, and that would eventually result in the destruction of a personality.
The authors’ field of vision encompassed cultural, psychological, social, and philosophical aspects of being. This, naturally, lent a profound meaning to the works of the grand display.
Who we are, and what are we living for on earth? Where is the way to the truth, to the immortality of spirit? What is the meaning of good and evil, beauty, love, freedom and reason – the concepts we got accustomed to hear and, therefore, as it may seem to us sometimes, not requiring any analysis? The attempt of the authors and their viewers to find answers to these and many other questions prompted a dialogue that took place in the exhibition halls of Tashkent and Samarqand; in the middle of the Fall season these venues became place of pilgrimage for people of arts and culture, the amateurs and connoisseurs of beauty. The halls housed personal exhibitions and opening day events, workshops delivered by photography masters, and an international conference titled “Photo Art: the Past, the Present, and the Future”.
“Transition” from Absurd to Inmost
The House of Young People’s Art, where the opening of the Art Week and the Biennale took place, became the first “station” for the “train of inspiration and bold imagination”. The past came alive in the works of Max Penson, the prominent Uzbek photography artist and photo reporter of the Pravda Vostoka newspaper and the TASS news agency: in 1937 at the Paris World Exposition he received the highest prize for his photograph called “The Uzbek Madonna”. The works presented at the PhotoBiennale – mostly the portraits of ordinary people – once again demonstrated the uniqueness of the archive of the master who captured one period in the country’s history year after year, page by page. On the same day, visitors could see works from the series “Requiem. Aral” and “Mirage” of our contemporary, the renowned photographer Victor An. The many facets of the master’s art and creed were exposed at another An’s personal exhibition titled “Transition”, which was displayed in the days of the Biennale. The exposition of black and white photographs is an eloquent story about human nature and the artist’s attempt to heal our souls with art.
Their view on photography and art in general shared the authors from France: fashion photographer Paolo Roversi and photo artist Tran Trong Vu, who presented an installation of 60 sheets of clear plastic. “A person can turn his back even to beauty, happiness and everything that is unusual, as he can hardly understand absurdity” – this is how Tran Trong Vu described his installation. “My job as an artist is to employ a little lie to get closer to the inmost truth”.
“Lie” in the art of photography should be understood as artist’s ability to enter the unreal world where impression is more important than calculation, and metaphor has more value than formula. According to the member of the Magnum Photo Agency Gueorgui Pinkhassov who chaired the Biennale jury, here it is important for an artist not to loose his mind, but go back to the world that is real. The world where we, people living in the post-Soviet space, who have been brought up with literary classics and moral categories, still have, Pinkhassov holds, in our perception of photo art, to make a transition from ethics to aesthetics. G. Pinkhassov, one of the world’s famous photography masters and a VGIK graduate who worked for many years at the Mosfilm studio as a photographer and authored a book titled “Sightwalk”, delivered a workshop that gave the audience an opportunity to look “behind the scenes” of the photo art and learn how pictures are born.
The first attempts to explore the world of photography Pinkhassov made as a student. Impressed by the art of Rembrandt, he printed portraits of his elderly neighbour: only in one of ten pictures her face looked particularly soulful, her eyes radiating invisible light. “I started wondering, what is this visual effect? What is its secret?”, tells Gueorgui. “Eventually I realized that no law or mathematical measurements can produce its formula. Only intuition can help.” A new impetus in Pinkhassov’s art was his acquaintance with Andrei Tarkovsky (report on his film “Stalker”) and his father Arseniy Tarkovsky. “I can relate to Russian constructivism and minimalism, and I like the “play” of cubism”, shares Pinkhassov. “But one day Andrei Tarkovsky said to me: shoot life, bear witness. I think it is not the photographer but his camera that bears witness, and it’s the camera’s vision of the world. In art, you get help from some higher forces. And I also consider black and white photographs, of which I have plenty, a kind of spiritual diet; there is a religious aspect to it, an urge to forgive. If you don’t feel it, then you see the world in colours”. Pinkhassov demonstrated several series of his works, including “Tbilisi Bathhouse”, “A Little Courtyard in Baku”, a series made in New York, and others. One of his favourite is a series dedicated to Tokyo. There is no storyline there, just the play of light and shadow, an element of chance, spontaneity; lines generate meaning, and a picture as a whole is akin to calligraphy. These features are characteristic of the entire art of the master who subscribes to the Zen wisdom: do not try to subdue, but submit.
On the Other Side of the Myth, the Yin Domain, the Memory Matter
The works of the Japanese photographer Naoyuki Ogino, member of the Biennale jury panel, invite a comparison with the art of calligraphy, with years of hard work behind spontaneity and bold improvisation. The international photo project encompassed two simultaneously running personal exhibitions of Naoyuki Ogino: “The Womb of the Myth” held in the Fine Arts Gallery of Uzbekistan, and “Komomo – the travels of Geisha” in the Ikuo Hirayama International Caravanserai of Culture. The first is dedicated to a dying film studio that has almost become a myth in contemporary culture – one of the last strongholds and a sacred place where mastery is still guided by imagination. This is also an attempt to look behind the screen, where, Ogino says, a legend is born, and where the dust of stories conceals the distant past, the deity, the future… The second display also reflects the artist’s aspiration to discover something new and unique in the conventional. According to Ogino, in the modern world the masculine element Yang prevails over the feminine Yin. Hence his desire to reveal the power of Yin that represents night and darkness. Therefore, pictures dedicated to the life of geishas, just as many of his other shots, the photographer makes without a flash. Ogino is one of the few in Japan with a license to take pictures of geishas in their homes amid their daily routine and observe, for instance, how the world of one of these girls changes over time inside this culture.
Naoyuki Ogino says: “As a photographer, I have always been drawn to the instance of beauty. One person can be beautiful within and without, but the other fails to notice it. Then I try to always see it and capture with my camera. At this moment some inmost connection is established between us, which becomes beauty. And for me, spiritual connection between two strangers is beauty, too. They may not realize it, but when they see the photograph, they are amazed. At this moment they go beyond their habitual world. I believe that the Biennale theme, “Me in the World, the World in Me”, helped not only photographers, but mostly the viewers to get out of their ordinary world, which many seem almost impossible to do. The purpose of displays of this kind is to give people a chance to see what they never noticed before.”
Displays such as “The Appearances of Japan: the Mysterious Fuji” by Koyo Okada and Shiro Shirohata from Japan, and “The Magnetism of Lines” by V. Vyatkin and V. Goncharenko from Uzbekistan helped the audience to take a different view on nature, people and current events. Rather unique is the experiment of two Belarusian authors, Mikhail Borozna and Ekaterina Kenigsberg, aimed to explore the plastic image of an instance. Also quite interesting are the personal exhibitions “My World in Five Acts” of the Italian photographer Luigi Spina, and “Maestransa” of Spaniard Aitor Lara who shot all the material from inside the corrida bullring, acting as a chronicler of the breathtaking action.
The project titled “Genealogy of the Memory Tree” of Academician Akbar Khakimov, Professor of Art History, left no one indifferent. Artists Alisher Alikulov, Bobur Ismoilov, Sanjar Jabbarov (Uzbekistan), Michael Barry Lane (USA), and Taus Makacheva (Dagestan) recreated images of their family by studying their own family photo albums. Here is Dr. Khakimov describing his project: “Memory is the subtlest matter – its invisible fibres connect generations and build continuity of civilizations”. According to him, the most important aesthetic feature of the project was the combination of purely personal attitude to the depicted characters and the opportunity to present a cross-section of society of the bygone generations. Most of the photographs were taken in the pre-war and post-war years, forever bearing the images of brothers and fathers who never returned from the battlefield. The project of T. Makacheva is dedicated to the memory of her grandfather, the famous poet Rasul Gamzatov.
Looking for Harmony in the Colour of Time
Spiritual quest in the domain of eternal categories, contemplation, and an attempt to create new space for art through the use of new technologies reflect the most pressing issues and social conflicts of today. Each master pursues his own way in art. No doubt that camera is an artistic tool that gives an author a lot of opportunities for self-expression. This has been confirmed by the works presented at the Photo Biennale. Exciting and captivating are the photos of the Israeli landscape photographer Isik Binunskiy who shoots the Dead Sea from a helicopter; appealing in their sincerity are the works of an artist from Georgia Irakli Dzneladze. Works created by the Russian photo artist Irina Mikhailova using computer graphics bring us back to the distant and fair time of childhood. Eloquent, laconic and expressive are the series by a master from Bangladesh Abu Seyeed Samon “Depression in Bangladesh”, the work of our compatriot Farhad Karimov “The Color of Time”, and “IndianSchool” by Amin Mehr. The works of the French photographer Marc Mangin from a series “Passing by China” [En passant par la Chine] are full of compassion and understanding, showing how sublime prevails over ridiculous.
A kind of appeal to our humanity and compassion sounded in the “Harsh Sentence” photo series of the Dutch photographer and journalist Benno Neeleman, displayed in the “Chorsu” gallery in Samarqand. Neeleman often visits the planet’s hot spots, turning his artist’s gaze to the people in dangerous situations. He says that the series was shot in the Philippines where authorities have no capacity for incarcerating juvenile petty thieves separately from hardened murderers. Here is the author on his work: “These children need a voice, and I give it to them through my photographs. I am glad that two international organizations have noticed this problem and intend to create facilities for juvenile offenders in the Philippines”. Audience in Samarqand could also see the photos by Aris Krause from his series “Latvia, Storm”, by Cosmo Emanuel from his “Nomads of Mongolia”, photographs of Khaled Hassan from Bangladesh, and the works of many other authors.
Yuriy Kosin, the Biennale jury member and the author of the personal exhibition “When the Sin is Vague” dedicated to the Chernobyl disaster, noted: “I shoot not what I see, but what looks at me. The world is richer than my understanding of it”. However, Kosin remarks, “the freedom we got today has not been won, it is not personal. It is just a freedom of choice to do good and ugly things”. Kosin’s view was supported by the deputy editor of the Ukrainian magazine “Photographer” Y. Zhilin, who made a presentation at the conference on the ethics of contemporary art. Zhilin is convinced that “Art should call for beauty and invoke a response in the human soul. It is difficult to fight the grownups or already developed worldviews, so I stake on young authors. Their evolution will be helped by masters who excelled in arts, and by the workshops.” As an example of such young and talented photo artists Zhilin referred to Stepan Rudik, whose personal exhibition “Bozhevilni” [Божевiльнi] at the Biennale touched the heartstrings of the audience, prompting thoughts about what happens to the mind and soul on the other side of mentality, and urging us to shed our callousness, ignorance and intolerance.
The Tashkent Biennale 2012 brought together people of different generations, cultures and traditions. Through the master-classes and live communication with the authors many participants and guests discovered a new world of emotions, ideas and knowledge. At the end of the event, its winners received awards in five categories, earning gold, silver and bronze medals, as well as prizes from EPSON, the sponsor.
Winners in the “Best Family Photo” nomination are: Alexander Horvat (Ukraine) – Gold Medal; Hamdam Sharahmedov (Uzbekistan) – Silver Medal; and Alexander Viledimovich (Belarus) – Bronze Medal.
The only medal for the “Best Curatorial Project”, which was gold, the Jury awarded to Kaveh Baghdadchi (Iran).
Winners in the “Best Experimental Photo” nomination are: Tatev Mnatsakanyan (Armenia) – Gold Medal; Andris Kozlovskis (Latvia) and Yegor Abaturov (Uzbekistan) – Silver Medal; Mirnaib Hasanov (Azerbaijan) and Pavel Kim (Uzbekistan) – Bronze Medal.
Winners in the “Best Art Photo” nomination are: Liga Sakse (Latvia) – Gold Medal; Nataliya Andrianova (Kyrgyzstan) – Silver Medal; Claudio Marcozzi – Bronze Medal.
Winners in the “Best Young Artist’ Work” nomination are: Alexander Barkovskiy (Uzbekistan) – Gold Medal; Haled Hasan (Bangladesh) – Silver Medal; Arlan Baykhojaev (Uzbekistan) – Bronze Medal.
The winner in the “Best Techno Art-Project” nomination is “Alikhan Photography” (Russia) receiving the Gold Medal.
According to the member of the jury, photographer from Azerbaijan Farid Meliev, when evaluating the works of the Biennale participants, the panel, first of all, took into account the author’s position and his/her ability to move the audience, to make the viewer feel joy or sorrow. Perhaps, this kind of impact of any work of art constitutes its true value and viability in the world of today.