Boris Mikhailov awarded the 2012 Spectrum Photo Prize

by Denis on February 2, 2012


Boris Mikhailov, one of the most influential photographers from the former Soviet Union, has been awarded the Spectrum Photo Prize 2012. The 73 year-old photographer joins Sophie Calle, Martha Rosler and Robert Adams who have previously won the prize which is awarded every three years by the Foundation of Lower Saxony and the Sprengel Museum.

Born in communist Ukraine, Mikhailov’s career as a photographer began after he was forced to quit his job as an engineer when the KGB uncovered photographs of his wife naked. Much of his work focussed on everyday life throughout the Russian occupation. After The Soviet Union’s collapse Mikhailov sought to uncover injustices people began facing as his hometown of Kharkov adjusted itself to the new capitalist culture.

“It is a disgraceful world, populated by some creatures that were once humans, but now these living beings are degraded, ghastly, appalling,” Mikhailov said at the time. “This “fauna” is specific especially to the period of quasi-general diffidence, specific for most of the post-communist world.” Taken throughout the 1960s and 70s in Soviet occupied Ukraine, Mikhailov’s Superimposition series depicts an extraordinary double world of Soviet drudgery juxtaposed with sex and beauty (shown above).

Perhaps, what could be considered as his most important work were the photographs Mikhailov took in Kharkov in 1997 and 1998. He visited this industrial Ukrainian city after the fall of the Soviet Union and found that many people, including those who were previously middle class, had been displaced and were now homeless. Mr Mikhailov was disturbed that despite the “shiny wrapper” of Western modernity, people were starving, suffering from disease and resorting to prostitution. Mr Mikhailov envisioned himself as a type of modern Dorthea Lange, documenting a class of people that would be otherwise invisible. He makes it impossible for viewers to look away. The figures plead with their eyes, every sore, every wrinkle depicted in Technicolor. He spent a year taking the pictures that would eventually become “Case History”, a 400-photograph series and book (see below). An exhibition of these pictures was shown at The Museum of Modern Art in New York in 2011.

(The text above is taken from Phaidon.com & The Economist.)

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by Denis on February 2, 2012

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