Misha Pedan: All the Fears at the End of the Soviet Era Were Connected with the Fact that It Was Unclear Where the Danger Was Coming from.

10/08/19

Nadia Kovalchuk

Author and date unknown. Image gift of Jury Rupin’s family. MOKSOP’s collection.

This text was compiled from the materials gathered in two separate conversations that had happened a bit less than half a year apart from each other. The first one took place in Paris, on November 9, 2018 during the annual Paris Photo art fair and was significantly amplified in the end of April, 2019. Misha Pedan, a participant of the Gosprom group and the curator of F-87 and F-88 exhibitions in Kharkiv, is now a practicing photographer and a lecturer in Kulturama art school in Stockholm. He talked, among other things, about the structure of Kharkiv photography scene in the 1970-1980s, the change of aesthetic paradigm and the specific character of curatorial activity in the Soviet period of “perestroika”.

About the Myths Around Kharkiv School of Photography and the Vremia Group

Misha Pedan: Since interest in Kharkiv School of Photography is pretty big, the myths, half-truths and total lies, self-hype and twisting of facts have started resembling an avalanche.
As for the Vremia group, I am convinced that they had no collective work as such. This fact isn’t too hard to realise if you take into account what they were doing and what was important for them.

Oleg Malevaniy, “The Age of Beauty”, 1972, gelatin silver print, colour posterization (verso side). MOKSOP’s collection.

Here is the reverse side of a photo by one of the members of the “Vremia” group [Time], Oleg Maliovany. There is a stamp print of Venus, one of Polish photo salons. And here in the centre there is a little stamp print saying “the Vremia group”. The thing is that at the moment the members of this group united, the only chance for a photographer to go outside the borders of the Soviet Union was taking part in international amateur salon contests. Today no one does that, except some old guys from Spilka [National Society of Photo Artists of Ukraine – ed. note], but back then there was no other option at all. That meant that sending works to the contests like this played an important motivating role for photographers at that time. Kharkiv is a provincial city, it isn’t Moscow, so nothing happens here, no one comes here, no one exhibits you, no one prints you and no one needs you. Salons were the only possibility to show your works to someone.

Those amateur contests were set up as follows: they got thousands of photos, and there was some kind of jury consisting of, say, three persons. Those people placed all the photos on the floor, and as they were walking between those rows, they selected the photos for the exhibition and for the catalogue. That was a standard procedure. If you wanted your photographs to get into the exhibition, you needed the jury to react to the very your work, as they were walking among the thousands of photos. What did you need for that? The “blow theory”. That was what the Vremia group needed to make their photos stand out from the thousands of others. 

Nadia Kovalchuk: Was the notion “blow theory” regularly mentioned in the conversations between the photographers?

M.P.: Yes, it was first worded in a conversation between Rupin and Pavlov. I don’t know who exactly came up with this term, but it is their version of what happened.

A huge breakthrough of the group was not their collective work and not their “anti-Soviet activity”, but the fact that they created a new aesthetic paradigm that hadn’t existed before neither in the USSR, nor outside its borders.

Due to a completely explosive mix of, on the one hand, the desire to fit in the international salon scene and, on the other hand, the influence of Soviet life, its aesthetics and kitsch on their photography, they found their own, absolutely incredible and new aesthetics. The Soviet aesthetics itself wasn’t in demand in the West at that time, while in the USSR no one had ever mixed this aesthetics with that of salons, and no one had ever tried to create a new artistic language that would be clear to those living in the Soviet Union and those living in other countries. This means that the goal was, by getting into those salons, first of all, to be true to themselves and do their own thing, but at the same time to speak the language that would be comprehensible.

Crucial for the formation of Kharkiv School of Photography was not a matter of who was the first to introduce some kind of technical innovation. The starting point for Kharkiv School was creating that new aesthetics itself. No matter who was the first in Kharkiv to start using Horizon [a panoramic camera produced in the USSR the artists from Kharkiv School of Photography often used – ed. note] or who started making “overlays” or whose idea it was to colour the photos. All of these trends and technical innovations, in fact, aren’t of big importance. What is really important is the aesthetic changes, since it’s only them that influences the development of art. In Victor Pelevin’s Secret Viewas of Mount Fuji [2018 – ed. note] there is a beautiful passage about trends, “People are astonished by life, because they take a false commercial narrative for it […]. Trendy. Cherry-brandy, as Osip Mandelstam once said. But in reality there are no trends at all. […] What is there in reality? […] A thought about school, a thought about summer, a thought about bills. Nagging pain in the cheekbone, it’s near dinner time. And then everything is over, forever over.”

When it comes to the conflict of aesthetic paradigms, there is a good quote by Sinyavsky. After he moved, he was giving an interview to some newspaper. There was a question, “What really happened to you? Jail, then you got kicked out of the country…” And he replied, “My disagreement with the Soviet government is of purely aesthetic nature.” That phrase was perceived as a joke, which it wasn’t. Everything is centered around the aesthetics. That’s why the contribution of the Vremia group is priceless. It created the foundation for Kharkiv School of Photography by exploiting the stupid things about the Soviet Union and mocking them. If there is a trait that unifies the members of Kharkiv School of Photography, then it is the sense of the world’s absurdity and ironic attitude to it. It is this irony that lets you keep on living, while understanding the absurdity of the world. This is a common trait almost all of them shared. Also, it is what unites the Vremia group with the Gosprom group and even with the younger generation, namely the Shilo group (Vladyslav Krasnoshchok and Sergiy Lebedynskyy).

N.K.: Do you mean that photography for Kharkiv School was also some kind of a therapeutic activity for releasing the stress the members faced?

M.P.: Yes, just as well as irony, photography played the role of a defense mechanism. Texts by Bakhchanyan, as well as our pictures —all those things were our defence strategies. The aim of Bakhchanyan’s writing wasn’t to make anyone laugh. He wrote in order to survive in the situation of insanity which the Soviet Union was. There was no need to take it seriously to realize that it was insanity, as it was just a construct or a matrix. We weren’t going to fight it, because fighting it was basically the same as accepting it, but with a negative sign. Of course, the things that we were doing were also undermining the already dying Soviet Union from the inside. But undermining the system was by no means the goal in itself, just as well as it wasn’t the goal for the guys from the Vremia group. The heroism that has now come into the picture, all this “me vs. KGB” stuff is lies. No one of us was deliberately trying to get involved in any kind of conflict.

N.K.: Was irony really present in the works by the Vremia group?

M.P.: Sure, it was there, without any doubt. I well remember an exhibition in the House of Amateur Art, where Viktor Zilberberg worked. At that exhibition there were lost of works by Sasha [Oleksandr – ed. note] Suprun. The title of one of them was “A Dream” [1984 – ed. note]. In the picture there is a man with a boy next to him, and both of them are looking up at the clouds, and the boy is picking his nose at the same time. Yura [Jury – ed.note] Rupin was wildly excited and started screaming (he always talked very loudly): “Do you understand what has happened? Even Suprun started working with this theme!” He didn’t say the word “irony” itself, but he was blown away by the fact that in Suprun’s collages, which were romantic for the most part, suddenly and very sharply this line of ironical attitude to our totally idiotic life appeared.

Oleksandr Suprun, “Urbanist’s Confession. A Dream”, 1984, gelatin silver print, photomontage. MOKSOP’s collection.

N.K.: Especially given that it is hard to recall ironic works by Rupin himself.

M.P.: In his colour works there was irony as well. But in the 1980s Yura was mainly doing business, buying cars and selling apartments.

N.K.: So, in the 1980s Rupin was not much present in Kharkiv photo scene, was he?

M.P.: In the beginning of the 1980s Rupin was still there, but he definitely wasn’t in F-87, since at that time he was in Lithuania. But in the beginning of the 1980s there was no such thing as the Vremia group anymore. Pavlov, Mikhailov and Maliovany continued their work on their own. A couple more photographers appeared, and they were doing something separately, but then our group emerged. At first it was called Kontakty [Contacts – ed.note] and then Gosprom.

About the Kontakty group that later became Gosprom

Portrait of Gosprom’s group pariticipants, late 1980s, gelatin silver print, collage (private collection).

N.K.: Were those the same people just under another group name?

M.P.: In Kontakty there were six of us right from the beginning [Igor Manko, Gennady Maslov, Boris Redko, Volodymyr Starko, Leonid Pesin, Misha Pedan – ed. note], and in Gosprom Bratkov and Boris Redko joined us, but Gennady Maslov left. As a group, Gosprom did more than Vremia. We organized a couple of exhibitions. Today they are easy to remember, because after each of them someone of us got fired. That was the person responsible for it.

N.K.: Can you remember when and what kind of exhibitions your group organized?

M.P.: There weren’t many. I clearly remember one of them. It took place in the Palace of Students, in a relatively small space, some time in 1986-1987. The other exhibitions were held in the House of Technics, in a little building in Gamarnik street and in the basement of the new Opera House. The last one, though, was in the beginning of the 1990s. There was also one more in Riga, at a festival of avant-garde art, i think in 1988.
By that time, Boris Mikhailov had come to a new aesthetic variant. For many that felt like something new, I mean that grey and boring photography that he so well showed and wrote about in his Viscidity [1982 – ed. note.] and then in Dissertation [Unfinished Dissertation, 1984 – ed. note]. Mikhailov came to this aesthetics as a result of an evolution, an aesthetic process. The thing that makes him so different from many others is his exploratory drive. This drive was so strong that it made him change his aesthetic principles from time to time and come to new aesthetics in his new projects. Undoubtedly, this is one of his major strengths.

Right at the same time we were doing the same grey and boring photography which already was our visual language. It was natural for us initially, because we were a different generation.

N.K.: Often art history texts on Kharkiv School of Photography say that the second generation inherited the traditions of the Vremia group.

M.P.: We didn’t inherit anything at all.

Misha Pedan, works from The End of La Belle Epoque (Gosprom’s group participants at Sergey Bratkov’s appartment), 1988. Image courtesy of the author.

N.K.: Indeed, it looks like you even performed some kind of “patricide” by fundamentally shifting away from complicated photography.

M.P.: This is true. We were a complete opposite of the “blow theory”. We didn’t have any sort of “blow” in our works, everything was just grey, even and washed-up. If I had to find one word to express the aesthetic of the Gosprom group, that would be “indifference”. So, certainly, the denial of complex photography and technical experiments  of the previous generation was one of our most important principles.

Sergiy Solonsky, although he was from that new generation, was closer to them, so he never belonged to our group. We would all hang out together at that time, going from a cafe to a cafe. But there was also a separate circle of people that shared the new aesthetic principles. At first we would gather in the Palace of Builders, where Starko worked. That happened once or twice a week. We all met, shared our photos and discussed something. Starko would tell everyone off and say that nothing is right. Those were general group meetings. Because the cafe was the cafe. There some people showed photographs, some didn’t, sometimes we discussed photography, sometimes we discussed nothing, just stared at girls at the next table.

N.K.: Where did this “washed-up aesthetics” and “washed-up” photography come from?

M.P.: I can’t speak for everyone, but I personally was under strong influence of Sliussarev. He was a very smart and delicate person.

N.K.: What do you think about the term “metaphysical photography”? The name of Slyusarev is connected with its creation. As far as I understand it became some kind of a brand, didn’t it?

M.P.: I think when he was alive there was no such thing. The hype was created later by other photographers, by Dmitry Muzalev, for example.

Misha Pedan about Misha Pedan

Roman Pyatkovka, 1985. Image courtesy of the author.

N.K.: Could you please tell me how you started doing photography?

M.P.: My photo career started by accident in the city sport committee. Before that, I worked as a sign painter. I made posters, painted Lenins and created wall newspapers. The room in which I and another sign painter worked was located in the center of Kharkiv, in Pushkinskaya street. The room next to ours was the place where photographers of that sport committee worked. One day all of them got sick and I was asked whether I could go for some photo shooting. They said, “Just press the button — it’s as easy as that.” After I came back from the shooting and they developed and printed the photographs, it turned out that my photos were no worse than theirs. Then some of them quit the job… That was when I thought, “When you are a painter, you have to do stuff, but when you are a photographer, you just press the button.” That happened some time after Brezhnev died, in 1981.

N.K.: When did you start seeing photography as something more than perfunctory documenting of the sport committee events? Did you use the words ‘photography artist’ or “fine-art photography”?

M.P.: Yes, we used these words. At that time, in the beginning of the 1980s, a cafe with a very weird name “Buchenwald” appeared. It was located in the basement of the Palace of Students’ canteen. Two guys with the help of all their friends, one of whom I was for some reason, turned that basement into a cafe. The atmosphere there was creative, and some exhibitions were held. Once there was an exhibition of Oleg Maliovany’s works, and it created a little sensation. Girls wanted to get to know him, which Oleg was very happy about. He used to come to that cafe with that shaggy hair of his, and there was a vivid image of an artist about him, not just of a photographer that simply took everyone’s photos with his camera. In fact, that was the time I met him. I even bought two of Oleg Maliovany’s works for a big amount of money: each of them costed ten roubles. One of them was a solarization from Riga and Tallinn and in the other one there was Bob [Boris Mikhailov – ed. note] kissing a girl on her neck, and the photograph itself looked like a fresco painting. Since that time we established friendly relations with Oleg, because his studio in the Institute of Soil Sciences was very close to the cafe, just some hundred meters from the Palace of Students. I didn’t work much and used to lounge my time away. After working a little I would come over to Oleg’s studio, drink tea or coffee, and we would discuss anything and everything. We talked about photography among other things, but not only about it.

Oleg Maliovany, “Fresco”, 1973, overlays, cibachromes. MOKSOP’s collection.

N.K.: So, would you like to say that the image of Oleg Maliovany as of a photography artist influenced your vision of the fact that a photographer can be an artist as well?

M.P.: Yes, for sure. It was later when I met Zhenya [Yevgeniy Pavlov – ed. note] and Bob, but I think that Oleg was the first stone.  So, when I got a chance to do photography with access to a laboratory, materials and cameras, I simply jumped at it.

N.K.: I would like to ask you about a fact of your biography. You studied in Leningrad, didn’t you?

M.P.: That was hard to call studies. In Leningrad there was the Institute of Culture, with the faculty of photography, cinema and art plus the history of the Communist Party. I studied there for three years and was the honour of the Institute, before I got kicked out of it. Reportedly, that happened because of some anti-Soviet slide-film, but I am not sure about it.

N.K.: Did you get into the Leningrad photography community at that time?

M.P.: In Leningrad there was no photography community. There were separate photographers, such as Andrey Chezhin and  Alexander Matveev, but there was no such thing as a community. Once, Bob and Zhenya and I started discussing why there were no photographers there, and the explanation we found was that everything in this city was too beautiful. Why take pictures of anything when even going out for a morning smoke you find yourself among bridges, lion sculptures and flowing water? In Moscow, photography helped to cope with endless chaos and aggressive environment. In Kharkiv and in Moscow, the atmosphere always was very tense.

N.K.: In Kharkiv as well?

M.P.: Of course. Kharkiv has always been like a clenched fist, and there is distinctive brutality in the way people in Kharkiv speak. I don’t know any reason for that, as there was nothing to share there anyway.

About F-87 and F-88

N.K.: There was a photo club in the Palace of Students and you were its head. Could you please tell me when the club appeared?

M.P.: I think that happened some time in 1984. The initiators of creating the club were Oleksandr Sitnichenko, Konstantin Melnik and I. Unfortunately, Sitnichenko was already pretty ill by that time, so he was often in hospital. But we started this thing together. The photo club was opened with support from FED factory, which produced photo cameras. That was why our first meeting happened at there. There is a photo where all of the club members but me are standing on the stairs of the factory. Tanya [Tatyana Pavlova – ed. note] asked me later, “Misha, how come you were not in the picture?” And I said, “Tanya, someone had to press the button on the camera.”

Since I knew the head of the Palace of Students, who was a rather progressive person willing to make a change, that photo club moved to the Palace of Students. I got a part-time job there.

N.K.: What was the main activity of the photo club?

M.P.: We gathered together, showed our works to each other and organized a couple of exhibitions, which later became famous. Those were F-87 [1987 – ed. note] and F-88 [1988 – ed.note].

N.K.: You were the curator of there exhibitions, although at that time there was no such word in the language, right?

M.P.: Of course there wasn’t.

N.K.: But the work you did was nothing else but curatorial: you defined the concept of the exhibition and selected the photographers.

M.P.: As a matter of fact, the concept of the exhibition was the following:

“Guys, we are showing whatever we want!”

“What do you mean by whatever we want?! They will come here and close the exhibition!”

“Yeah, but we are going to show whatever we want all the same.”

Now this would be hard to call a concept, but at that time it was one. The process of selecting photographers happened this way: “No, we are not going to call this one. And this one neither. Never ever.” Still, that was a process of selecting. At the same time with F-87 a group of offended photographers organized another exhibition in the House of Architects. After the photographers were selected, the task of the curator was to tell everyone: “Here are your five metres, so please, don’t use the space of the author next to you.” Also I had to keep at bay those who were making attempts to talk me into removing the works by another author and placing more of their own works instead.

It should be mentioned that this is what contemporary curatorial work consists of. Many people took part in running around offices, but it was me who was responsible for all that, because that was my job.

Roman Pyatkovka, slides from “F-87” opening, 1987. Images courtesy of the author.

N.K.: So, on the one hand you were meeting the members of the Gosprom group you were aesthetically close to in the Palace of Builders, and later in the Palace of Students, and on the other hand, you were doing general organizational work for the photography scene of the city. And as a curator you exhibited not only the photography that was close to your artistic taste. At F-87 there were technical experiments, nude photography, etc.

M.P.: Yes, Oleg Maliovany displayed lots of photos with nude girls in them at F-87, and everyone was so enthused about that, from the Komsomol workers to the cleaning ladies working in the hall. It is a myth that in the Soviet Union showing nude art was banned. By the end of the 80s, no one was bothered by that. Everyone passing by Maliovany’s photos would say: “Now this is real art!”. As for Mikhailov’s works, people wondered why that crazy man had taken a photo of a tractor covered in dirt.

I mean that the danger wasn’t in the naked body itself or in expressing sexuality, but in the oddity, when it wasn’t clear why would one do that. All the fears at the end of the Soviet era were connected with the fact that it was unclear where the danger was coming from. But it was pretty clear why one would take a photo of a naked girl.

N.K.: Did Viktor Kochetov had his hallmark long coloured works at F-87?

M.P.: No, he didn’t. But if I remember correctly, there were black-and-white pictures, already panoramic ones. I remember a couple of them: one was with a weird iron fir tree and the other one was from Dzerzhinsky square with some celebration going on and a girl on a stage.

Viktor and Sergey Kochetov, “Kharkiv, Near the Circus”, 1983, gelatin silver print. MOKSOP’s collection.

N.K.: Was Kochetov a part of the community of Kharkiv photographers in the 1980s?

M.P.: Viktor was always somewhat on his own. He worked as a photographer at some organization [The Southern Railway Administration – ed. note] and there was that serious attitude to him. But at the same time he always stood aside.

N.K.: Shifting away from the experimental and “complex” photography of the Vremia group and embracing more “straightforward” yet ironic photography, was Kochetov in your opinion close to the Gosprom group aesthetics?

M.P.: Of course he was, that wasn’t our privilege. Viktor Kochetov and Boris Mikhailov did that kind of photography, but they did it differently. Vitya Kochetov had more irony in his works than we did, partly owing to the technology and panoramic picture.

N.K.: What else did Mikhailov have at the exhibition besides the tractor in dirt mentioned above?

M.P.: At F-87 or at F-88, Bob had many little pictures pinned to a rope. Those were small pictures with everyday Soviet greyness.

N.K.: I’ve heard that that was exactly at F-87 when Mikhailov publicly showed his Luriki as an art project. On the other hand, Roman Pyatkovka told me that Mikhailov had shown luriki in that transformed art status to him way earlier. In truth, I’ve got an impression that the difference between what was considered “art” and what wasn’t was very vague at that time.

M.P.: Yes, Mikhailov showed Luriki either at F-87 or at F-88. It is important to understand that he could show them as an art project even earlier, but only to us, photographers. The big part of those projects wasn’t printed and wan’t exhibited. Someone would take new photos and show them to me, Mikhailov, Evgeniy and Maliovany. But there wasn’t any professional structure for exhibiting works.

About Moscow Avant-Garde Photography and the World’s Discovery of Kharkiv.

N.K.: You quoted Slyusarev and I immediately remembered about the group of photographers from Chernivtsi who worked at the same time you did [the group of Four – Vyacheslav Tarnovetskiy, Sergey Lopatyuk, Boris Savelev and Aleksandr Slyusarev- ed. note]. Did you keep in touch with them? 

M.P.: No, we didn’t. They came to Kharkiv once, we got drunk and forgot about everything. We knew about each other’s existence, but that has no result.

As for Moscow, there were contacts with a group of avant-garde photographers. When I came to Moscow I always stayed at Ilya Piganov’s home.

Aleksandr Slyusarev, a photo of Igor Mukhin and Misha Pedan, undated. Image courtesy of Misha Pedan.

N.K.: Speaking of this group, do you mean the photographers from the Immediate Photography group essentially [the group of photographers created in Moscow in 1987. Among others it included Boris Mihkailov and Aleksandr Slyusarev – ed. note]?

M.P.: Yes, those guys, in my opinion, were very cool. But they had been doing photography before the group was created. Those were the people we had intensive communication with at that time. Piganov was married to Irina Meglynskaya, who later became a galerist. Our relationship stopped after her exhibition “From Where the Motherland Begins”.

Piganov made very interesting photomontages. There is a narrowly known story of how the Finns offered him to do an exhibition in Helsinki. He came there and saw a tiny room of 2 by 2 metres. When he saw that “space” he uttered, “What a c*nt.” Then he came home, took pictures of Miglinskaya’s vulva, printed those photos in different techniques, covered the walls with them, glued the same pictures on bottles and cigarette packs… The Finns were happy!

For sure there was communication, although it was selective. There was something you would tell someone and wouldn’t tell someone else, and there were events you would invite someone to, but wouldn’t invite someone else. This isn’t the most pleasant part of this story. Even though, I will repeat myself, there was nothing to share.

N.K.: But at that time there was something to share: the Scandinavians were already looking for local talented artists.

M.P.: Yes, they were. They made books, and photographers started getting published.

N.K.: And when did western editors and gallerists start coming to Kharkiv?

M.P.: I would say some time beginning with 1985, but I’m not sure. The Scandinavians were among the first who took interest in us. There were many funny stories connected with them. Once there were two refined Finns who came to Kharkiv and spent a couple of days at Saltovka in “Panorama” looking at photos. All more or less serious photographers knew about that fact, so the Finns made a condition that everyone’s works would be shown to them. A year later, in 1988, they released a publication dedicated to the new Soviet photography [Hannu Eerikäinen; Taneli Eskola, Toisinnäkijät : Uusi valokuva neuvostoliitossa, Helsinki, SN-kirjat, 1988 – ed. note].

Also, at the end of the 1980s, Ivan Dykhovitchny made a wonderful film “Red Series” on the Soviet photography. The “skeleton” of the film was Bob’s works. Ivan came to Kharkiv and checked out thousands of photographs by Kharkiv authors. Unfortunately, only a bad-quality copy of the film survived.

About the Soviet Joy and Coloured Photography

N.K.: In the end I would like to ask you a question about your “Metro” series [1986-1988 – ed. note]. When you were working on it, did you know about the existence of a similar series by Walker Evans?

M.P.: I guess, at the time of taking the photos I wasn’t thinking about Evans. I simply took the metro every day. Besides that I bought the first camera with autofocus, a Minolta. That felt like a real wonder when the objective focused by itself. When there were enough pictures for uniting them in a project, of course I thought about Evans, and his spirit hangs over this series.

Moreover, there is a present for Evans there – it is a person with a Russian harmonica. In his series almost all the pictures are portraits, one or two persons in a frame. But there is a photo where on both sides of the carriage there are people sitting, and in the centre there is a person walking with a Russian harmonica. This is the longest sequence. In the rest of the photos there is only misery, with no happy people at all, but in this one there is some Soviet kind of joy.

N.K.: And it is some weird joy, pretty dark one.

M.P. Drunk one.

N.K. Is it similar to the mood of the poem Moscow-Petushki?

M.P.: I wasn’t thinking about Yerofeyev directly, but, for sure, I had read him and that worked on a subconscious level.

Those photos were taken in 1985-1986 and when I decided to make a book in 2015 I wanted the pictures to be grey and dirty, just like they were back then. But of course the materials giving that quality of a photograph wasn’t there anymore. Then my copyist in Stockholm, who also works with Anders Petersen, found paper produced in the GDR in 1985, exactly when the series was created. Naturally, the paper was in horrible condition and all of its defects reflected themselves in the prints.

N.K.: Was that come back to the Soviet aesthetics connected with the desire to actualize personal experience of that time?

M.P.: I would rather call it a work with two main instruments of a photographer. What makes photographers different from one another? First of all it is the visual language and the aesthetics we use. Secondly, it is the experience that I as a photographer have access to, while others probably don’t. Here I have access to the memory of the country which no one else can visit, as the country itself doesn’t exist anymore. No one can take a Soviet metro train now.

Misha Pedan, from M series, 1985-1986, gelatin-silver print. MOKSOP’s collection.

N.K.: There is a version of Metro consisting of coloured black-and-white photos. What is your attitude to colouring photographs? In Stereotypes [2005-2012 – ed. note], I think, some of the pictures were coloured.

M.P.: Yes, all of them are. I have another series, Monument [2003 – ed. note], and it consists of black-and-white photos that were digitally coloured.

Regarding the topic of colouring in Kharkiv School of Photography, Irina Chmyreva and I were curators of the exhibition called “Kharkiv School: Drawing Lessons”.

N.K.: What colouring logic, apart from the work with luriki aesthetics did you discover back then in Kharkiv School?

M.P.: Indeed, we are talking primarily about luriki here which in a certain sense represent the quintessence of the Soviet aesthetics. The achievement of Mikhailov is in the fact that everyone was making luriki, but it was him who had an idea to turn them into art.

If we are talking about colouring in general, not only in Kharkiv, it is also connected with the nostalgia caused by old hand-coloured pictures.

In Monument and in Stereotypes where colouring is very vague, semi transparent, it removes the feeling of time from the image, as it isn’t clear when the photos were taken. This could be today, as well as 50 years ago. The weird colouring distorts the time. On the other hand, it plays games with the effect of recognition in our brains. In reality millions of colour gradations exist. But when you are colouring a photo just setting some coordinates is enough. For example, the tree is green and the sky is blue. And that’s what your brain will perceive as reality. It doesn’t need much to feel itself inside the boundaries of normal.