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  1. SCAN by NIkita Shokhov: Where the Carnival goes


    Essay by Olga Deryugina, 2016

    Photography as a means of instant capturing the reality has to be the most flexible and sensitive to the trends of the times compared to other forms of art. In addition, photography is always placed at the crossroads of different perceptions, in the conflict zone: sometimes it is credited with the quality of the document, sometimes – with the means of expressing the subjective view of the world, sometimes it is deprived of the specific features, sometimes it is seen as a means of reflecting the social status. Such contradictions and doubts are perhaps expressed most acutely in professional circles. The classic intergenerational conflict evolves in photographic schools.

    At the heart of education at the Rodchenko Moscow School there is a division into workshops – Project Photography (Vladislav Efimov), Candid Photography (Igor Mukhin), Documentary Photography (Valery Nistratov). Although every artist has his own recipe for preparing successful projects, students often resist, running from one workshop to another, barely meeting the teachers' misunderstanding of their creative experiments, which, however, is quite natural for any creative institution. On the one hand, any school creates a specific canon; on the other hand, sure, it is more interesting to watch the people who overcome the established canon.

  2. Initially the training at the Rodchenko School was mainly devoted to photography. Ten years later, the emphasis has changed: now photography is seen as an integral part of the contemporary art field. This has become possible partly due to the graduates themselves who provoked discussions on the medium boundaries, as well as the collision of the ethical and the aesthetical.

    One of those “provocateurs” who has graduated from the Rodchenko School is Nikita Shokhov – an alumnus of Igor Mukhin's workshop. His graduation project “Rublyovka” raised a discussion on whether the author has the right to manipulate the photo, although in this particular case, the retouch had totally aesthetic and cosmetic nature and did not affect the plot. In 2013, Igor Mukhin, being Nikita's scientific supervisor, raised the issue of using the Photoshop. The round table took place where experts spoke on the topic of photography as a document. The age-old debate about the photographic truth, however, was not resolved.

    Nikita almost immediately moved from barely perceptible intervention in the frame composition to much more radical formal experiments. Also in 2013, he began shooting the “Scan” series. The last shots were taken in summer 2016.

  3. The technical focus is as follows: camera (toyo 4×5) stands on a tripod, the crowd moves in the frame; a BetterLight scanner is inserted into the camera instead of a photo film. The principle is the same as that of a conventional flatbed scanner. But the object is not static, which creates a specific effect of plastic deformation. The sensor scans the pixels in a given point of space for 40 seconds.

    This series was created after the shootings in Utrish and Moscow night clubs. “Utrish” is staged shots, an interpretation of the mythological scenes about the space of pristine freedom, the time before the advent of capitalism and the nation states. The “Moscow Nightlife” series is about the paradoxical attempt to gain the same place and the feeling of liberation, but in this case through immersion into the heart of the machine of pleasure and consumption. Nikita says that all three series were a kind of a research for him, the search for an answer to the question of what is left of the carnival today – in the sense proposed by the philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin. In his theory, the basis is the phenomenon of medieval carnival – an action, in which the usual social masks are torn off, the top and the bottom switch places, and the obscene becomes acceptable.

    According to Nikita, the essence of carnival is preserved only in closed communities: hippies’ communes, at nudists’ gatherings. Modern mass events, by contrast, have no room for spontaneity; every movement is planned and orchestrated, social roles do not cease to exist and as if become even more concentrated.

  4. However, the question arises – to what extent can, in fact, the photo convey this feeling of liberation and overthrowing the existing order? Because the frame is always a compromise between a random moment and an agreement between an author and a model. Speaking about the genre of the portrait, does not the fact of posing for the camera contain the element of the carnival – finding something different in oneself, playing a certain role?

    The “Scan” series attract due to the fact that the photography turns out to be documentation, a direct method of detecting the crowd movements, as well as a concise visual metaphor for the mass gathering phenomenon. The shift of view is demonstrated: you cannot be separated from the mass; the individual is blurred and distorted. The sense of time and space is also subject to transformation. Jointness is transformed into invisibility. Technical capacity – cars, tanks – seems like cardboard settings. Simple analogies that arise when you first look at the photos from the “Scan” series – a distorting mirror, toylikeness – coincide exactly with the poster language and fair images inherent to mass events. Photography acquires a hint of caricature.

    The event shooting is combined with the use of techniques that make author's subjectivity more evident, more “vivid”. The work at the intersection of genres and the demonstrative subjective view as opposed to the traditional opposition between documentary and staged photography is in the spirit of contemporary photography – photography in the age of “post-truth” when “objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”.