Surprisingly Sunny Photography From Soviet-Era Russia

The Photo Blog
June 10 2013 1:02 PM

Who Knew Photos From Soviet-Era Russia Could Look So Happy?

Left: From the Meeting series, Moscow, 2004. Right: From the Everyday cycle, Kartukovo, 1995.
Left: From the Meeting series, Moscow, 2004. Right: From the Everyday cycle, Kartukovo, 1995.

Sergey Chilikov/courtesy of Grinberg Gallery, Moscow. From Sergey Chilikov: Selected Works 1978–, published by Schilt Publishing, Amsterdam.

This post contains nudity.

It would be difficult to guess Sergey Chilikov’s photographs are a product of repressive, Soviet-era Russia. Sergey Chilikov: Selected Works 1978–, published by Schilt Publishing at the end of 2011 is brimming with Chilikov’s relatively unknown work covering the span of his career, from the 1970s through the late 2000s.

The book’s introduction describes the bleak place photography held in Soviet Russia during the 1970s. During that period, photography wasn’t given credence as a legitimate art form and even classic Soviet photography wasn’t included in museum exhibitions. In order to get their work seen, photographers started their own clubs, exchanging work with other clubs and organizing their own exhibitions and festivals, and thereby creating a community that supported photography as a legitimate art form.

Sergey Chilikov
Left: From the Sawmill cycle, 2003. Right: From the Yalta series, 2002.

Sergey Chilikov/courtesy of Grinberg Gallery, Moscow. From Sergey Chilikov: Selected Works 1978–, published by Schilt Publishing, Amsterdam.

Left: From the Everyday cycle, Chorus girls series, Cheboksary, 1995. Right: From the Everyday cycle, Before the storm, Kundysh, 1994.
Left: From the Everyday cycle, Chorus girls series, Cheboksary, 1995. Right: From the Everyday cycle, Before the storm, Kundysh, 1994.

Sergey Chilikov/courtesy of Grinberg Gallery, Moscow. From Sergey Chilikov: Selected Works 1978–, published by Schilt Publishing, Amsterdam.

Sergey Chilikov
Left: From the Games of Chance cycle, the Freaks series, Samara, 2004. Right: From the Yalta series, 2002.

Sergey Chilikov/courtesy of Grinberg Gallery, Moscow. From Sergey Chilikov: Selected Works 1978–, published by Schilt Publishing, Amsterdam.

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Into this realm came Sergey Chilikov, one of the founding members of the FACT group, which was active from 1976 to 1988. Chilikov’s photographs stand out because they espouse a humor and an ease not commonly seen in images of Soviet-era Russia.

The small freedoms depicted in Chilikov’s work are happily out of step with the usual images from this particular time and place. Chilikov’s work continued in this spirit after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, though clearly repression didn’t evaporate overnight. About working in this era, Chilikov, via email, wrote:

“Just image ideological tunnel vision and baiting, which were typical in the 1970s in the USSR. Imagine the depression regarding self-actualization and domination of puppet standards, which were represented in only one way without any alternatives. Imagine the absence of any motives, which would somehow encourage one's efforts. Imagine suppression of one’s aspirations on behalf of national security. It was all so tangled, and when it is considered now, one can hardly believe that it was still possible to creep out of that clay-like, retaining, shapeless mass. But we've managed it.”

Regarding the prevalent nudity in his work, specifically topless young women, Chilikov didn't feel as if he were expressing anything out of the ordinary.

Sergey Chilikov
Left: From the Funny Stories series, Moscow, 1983. Right: From the Funny Stories series, Kundysh, 1980–81.

Sergey Chilikov/courtesy of Grinberg Gallery, Moscow. From Sergey Chilikov: Selected Works 1978–, published by Schilt Publishing, Amsterdam.

Sergey Chilikov
Left: From the 3200. Water series, Yoshkar-Ola, 2002. Right: From the In the country series, Kamakanury, 2010.

Sergey Chilikov/courtesy of Grinberg Gallery, Moscow. From Sergey Chilikov: Selected Works 1978–, published by Schilt Publishing, Amsterdam.

Sergey Chilikov
Left: From the Praying to cheerful God series, Kukmar, 2007. Right: From the Caucasus cycle, 2008.

Sergey Chilikov. Courtesy Grinberg Gallery, Moscow. From Sergey Chilikov: Selected Works 1978–, published by Schilt Publishing, Amsterdam.

Sergey Chilikov
Left: From the Old Samara cycle, 2003. Right: From the Kolorizm cycle, Alatyr, 1995.

Sergey Chilikov/courtesy of Grinberg Gallery, Moscow. From Sergey Chilikov: Selected Works 1978–, published by Schilt Publishing, Amsterdam.

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