Chapter one: Mangyshlak and Ustyurt
The photographs presented at this exhibition were taken by Andrei Fomenko, a famous historian and critic of contemporary art, acting in this case in a new and unexpected capacity for him, during two expeditions in Western Kazakhstan - the Mangyshlak Peninsula and separate areas along the western cliff of the Ustyurt plateau. The cycle is part of a larger project that, according to the author, consists of a "photographic survey" of an area stretching from the Caspian Sea in the west to southern Siberia in the east, a historical region known as Turkestan. “I am interested in various natural landscapes and objects (geological, biological, archaeological) located in places that are relatively inaccessible and not too traveled by tourists,” the author comments. - To date, I have “surveyed” a negligible fraction of this territory; Mangyshlak is somewhat better than others. "
“It is hardly necessary to go into the reasons for my fascination with this particular region: the images speak for themselves. Or rather, the objects themselves speak through them. This is the attractiveness of photography: a person (“artist”) plays an auxiliary role in it, third in importance after the subject and the technology of shooting. You can, of course, challenge this point of view, citing the human origin of the photographic technique itself and a number of other factors. Let the objectivity of photography be an illusion, but this illusion has an irresistible power of suggestion: with the help of a camera you seem to appropriate an object, no matter how great it may be; you take it with you, packed in a tiny rectangle of negative."
All photographs in this exhibition were taken with an analog camera on a narrow (35 mm) negative film, followed by manual silver gelatin printing of positive images. Andrei Fomenko's adherence to this old-fashioned technique is primarily due to aesthetic reasons: in his words, "a photograph taken on film has a special texture, which seems to attach it to the materiality of things themselves."
In addition, this method of shooting is consistent with the nature of the campaigns during which these photographs were taken. To the places depicted on them - the Tuzbair Sor and the Boszhira tract, the Sherkala mountains and the "valleys of castles" of Ayrakty-Shomonay, the valleys of nodules and the Kapamsay canyon, the rocky mosques of Shakpak-Ata and Sultanape, the Kullambet and Shilkyz burial grounds, he mostly traveled on foot. “The time and effort spent on these movements, as well as the circumstances that accompanied them, remained behind the scenes - but it is this off-screen space-and-time that gives meaning to the images as such,” says the author.
However, Andrei Fomenko himself refuses to be called an author. According to him, the real authors of these works are, first of all, the subjects captured on them - mountains, stones, salt marshes, mausoleums, animals and plants - as well as shooting technology, including a camera, lens and film, and only last of all - a person whose the name is included in the title of this exhibition.
About the author
Andrey Fomenko (born 1971) is a historian and critic of contemporary art, translator, essayist, photographer. Author of the books "Archaists, they are innovators" (2007), "Montage, factography, epic" (2007), "Soviet avant-garde photography and the concept of production-utilitarian art" (2011; State prize "Innovation"), as well as a number of articles on Soviet and international avant-garde, photography and its relationship with the art world, the art scene of Kazakhstan and Central Asia, cinema and other topics. Professor of the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies in the Field of Arts, St. Petersburg State University.