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By Marina Neklyudova


​If you are planning to visit Houston, the 14th International Biennial of Photography, FotoFest 2012 opened its doors on March 16th. This year, FotoFest is dedicated to Contemporary Russian photography and is said to feature the work of 200 artists from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. The exhibition is spread out over 75 venues in Houston and has been curated by Irena Chmyreva, Evgeny Berezner and Natalia Tarasova, in collaboration with FotoFest’s artistic director Wendy Watriss. Curators chose to divide the exhibitions chronologically in three periods, covering the development of USSR photography after Stalin’s death up until today.

To start with, the show is well worth a visit. Some of the works presented include striking vintage photographic prints on loan from Moscow’s Lumiere Brothers Center for Photography. In addition, Huston Community College’s Central Art Gallery is hosting a special exhibition Soviet Winners of World Press Photo, 1956-91. A number of exhibitions and events run in accordance with FotoFest: The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH) presents Utopia/Dystopia exhibition curated by Yasu Nakamori, focused on photography and collages from the collection of MFAH (including works of Alexander Rodchenko, El Lissytsky, Lazlo Maholy-Nagy and May Ray among others). A number of movies chosen for screening will be run during the weekends, among which is an outstanding Soviet avant-garde movie Man with a Movie camera (1929), directed by Dziga Vertov.

This year’s vernissage was opened to the public and drew thousands of visitors. Under the spotlight were brought the works of twenty-three artists chosen to represent the younger generation of Russian photography. Their work is foremost interesting for its perplexing diversity of themes and visual vocabularies. Very unlike the older generations of Soviet photographers that were either interested in the purity of forms or was searching for historical truths, the current generation seems to be fascinated with emotional expressions and psychological states. Being for the most part self-taught, the young generation of photographers blends formally different visual languages in their works, making it harder to find something that will help placing these works within the framework of contemporary art, except maybe their land of origin. However this trend should be understood precisely in relation to Russia’s recent Soviet history and society’s psychological inability to process it.

Unable to deal with their traumatic past, contemporary post-Soviet societies came to reject completely all reminders of Soviet life. In relation to contemporary Russian photography this means that the young generation of artists is not interested in studying the works of their old masters and is mostly unaware of art made mere ten or twenty years ago.

As it often goes, along with the break with formal traditions of the past comes a search. And this search is what you see when you enter the exhibition. Disconnected from their past and rejecting their history younger generation’s search becomes an existential search for definitions, a quest on which these young photographers seems to have chosen to set off on their own. FotoFest 2012 Biennial will run for six weeks, from March 16th through April 29.

Marina Neklyudova was born in USSR in 1987. She has studied History in the University of Kyiv, Ukraine and has an Art History degree of the University of Leiden, the Netherlands. A restless traveler, she is currently living and studying in London.

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