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City of Shadows (1991-1994)

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Vasileostrovskaya Metro Station (Crowd 1), St. Petersburg, 1991-1992

Vasileostrovskaya Metro Station (Crowd 1), St. Petersburg, 1991-1992
Toned gelatin silver print

Hand printed by the artist in the darkroom, signed, dated in pencil on verso

Edition of 15

16 x 16 in. (40.6 x 40.6 cm)

Vasileostrovskaya Metro Station (Crowd 2), St. Petersburg, 1992

Vasileostrovskaya Metro Station (Crowd 2), St. Petersburg, 1992
Toned gelatin silver print

Hand printed by the artist in the darkroom, signed, dated in pencil on verso

7 x 7 in. (17.8 x 17.8 cm)

12 x 12 in. (30.5 x 30.5 cm)

16 x 16 in. (40.6 x 40.6 cm)


“A crowd moves herblike up one side of a set of steps…The time exposure turns the people to dismembered wraiths floating past in an almost amorphous mass. Their ghostliness highlights the anonymity and regimentation of city life and evokes the dead…The lighter tones of the building façades in the background provide a visual and emotional counterpoint…Perhaps this is an artist’s live variation on Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase. Focusing on steps recalls the Odessa Steps scene from Sergey Eisenstein’s The Battleship Potemkin. Using traditional photographic methods, Titarenko mines such metaphorical possibilities from the city’s physical and psychological interstices."

Ferdinand Protzman, Landscape: Photographs of Time and Place

Vasileostrovskaya Metro Station (Variant Crowd 2), St. Petersburg, 1992, Toned gelatin silver print

Vasileostrovskaya Metro Station (Variant Crowd 2), St. Petersburg, 1992

Toned gelatin silver print

Hand made by the artist in the darkroom, signed, dated in pencil on verso

12 x 12 in. (30.5 x 30.5 cm)

16 x 16 in. (40.6 x 40.6 cm)

 

 

Vasileostrovskaya Metro Station (Variant Crowd 2) was Titarenko’s instinctive response to an atmosphere of deterioration and despair unfolding in 1990s Saint Petersburg, the years immediately after the fall of the Soviet Union. Through the method of long exposure, Titarenko transformed the swarm of Russian people pushing their way through a metro station, into a ghost-like haze. Reflecting a decade later, Titarenko wrote that “all these people conditioned by propagandistic models of representation, a palpable ensemble of smiling faces, were becoming wandering shadows.”

 

Variant Crowd 2 is a variation of Titarenko’s magnum opus, Vasileostrovskaya Metro Station. In his crowd photographs, Titarenko unleashed the expressive potentials of long-exposure, demonstrating his mastery of the artistic method. Through darkroom toning and bleaching, he highlights specific elements in the scene. Particularly stirring are the pair of shoes — a frozen calm amid a procession of shadows. Titarenko invented these technique to truthfully reveals feelings of anxiety in Saint Petersburg at the time. Evocative as both an artistic achievement and a historical document, artworks from the Vasileostrovskaya Metro Station series can be found in such collections at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; MAST, Bologna; and the Chrysler Museum, Norfolk.

Vasileostrovskaya Metro Station (Variant 2 Crowd 2), Saint Petersburg, 1992

Vasileostrovskaya Metro Station (Variant 2 Crowd 2)

Saint Petersburg, 1992

Toned gelatin silver print

8 3/8 x 8 3/8 in. (21.3 x 21.3 cm)

Edition of 5

Vasileostrovskaya Metro Station (Variant 3 Crowd 2), Saint Petersburg, 1992

Vasileostrovskaya Metro Station (Variant 3 Crowd 2)

Saint Petersburg, 1992

Toned gelatin silver print

8 1/8 x 8 1/8 in. (20.6 x 20.6 cm)

Edition of 5

Vasileostrovskaya Metro Station (Variant 4 Crowd 2), Saint Petersburg, 1992

Vasileostrovskaya Metro Station (Variant 4 Crowd 2)

Saint Petersburg, 1992

Toned gelatin silver print

8 3/8 x 8 3/8 in. (21.3 x 21.3 cm)

Edition of 5

Crowd on Sredniy Prospect (Crowd 3), Saint Petersburg, 1992, Toned gelatin silver print

Crowd on Sredniy Prospect (Crowd 3), Saint Petersburg, 1992

Toned gelatin silver print

Hand made by the artist in the darkroom, signed, dated in pencil on verso

7 x 7 in. (17.8 x 17.8 cm)

12 x 12 in. (30.5 x 30.5 cm)

16 x 16 in. (40.6 x 40.6 cm)

Vasileostrovskaya Metro Station (Crowd 4), St. Petersburg, 1992

Vasileostrovskaya Metro Station (Crowd 4), St. Petersburg, 1992
Toned gelatin silver print

Hand printed by the artist in the darkroom, signed, and dated in pencil on verso

7 x 7 in. (17.8 x 17.8 cm)

12 x 12 in. (30.5 x 30.5 cm)

16 x 16 in. (40.6 x 40.6 cm)

 

Crowd going to Vasileostrovskaya Metro Station, 1993

Crowd going to Vasileostrovskaya Metro Station, 1993
Toned gelatin silver print
Signed, dated, titled, and editioned on verso
7 x 7 in. (17.8 x 17.8 cm)
12 x 12 in. (30.5 x 30.5 cm)

Entrance, Vasileostrovskaya Metro Station (Heads), St. Petersburg, 1991-1992

Entrance, Vasileostrovskaya Metro Station (Heads), St. Petersburg, 1991-1992
Toned gelatin silver print

Hand printed in the darkroom by the artist, signed and dated in pencil on verso

7 x 7 in. (17.8 x 17.8 cm)

16 x 16 in. (40.6 x 40.6 cm)

Vasileostrovskaya Metro Station (view from the rooftop), St. Petersburg, 1998-99

Vasileostrovskaya Metro Station (view from the rooftop), St. Petersburg, 1998-99
Toned gelatin silver print

Hand printed by the artist in the darkroom, signed, dated in pencil on verso

12 x 12 in. (30.5 x 30.5 cm)

16 x 16 in. (40.6 x 40.6 cm)

Rain on Nevsky Prospect, St. Petersburg, 1994

Rain on Nevsky Prospect, St. Petersburg, 1994
Toned gelatin silver print

Hand made by the artist in the darkroom, signed, dated in pencil on verso

7 x 7 in. (17.8 x 17.8 cm)

12 x 12 in. (30.5 x 30.5 cm)

Grandmother with Grandchild, St. Petersburg, 1992

Grandmother with Grandchild, St. Petersburg, 1992
Toned gelatin silver print

Hand made by the artist in the darkroom, signed, dated in pencil on verso

Edition of 10

12 x 12 in. (30.5 x 30.5 cm)

 

Black Market, St. Petersburg, 1992

Black Market, St. Petersburg, 1992
Toned gelatin silver print

Hand made by the artist in the darkroom, signed, dated in pencil on verso

Edition of 10

12 x 12 in. (30.5 x 30.5 cm)

Boy, St. Petersburg, 1993

Boy, St. Petersburg, 1993
Toned gelatin silver print

Hand made by the artist in the darkroom, signed, dated in pencil on verso

7 x 7 in. (17.8 x 17.8 cm)

16 x 16 in. (40.6 x 40.6 cm)

Three Pensioners Selling Contraband Cigarettes, St. Petersburg, 1992

Three Pensioners Selling Contraband Cigarettes, St. Petersburg, 1992
Toned gelatin silver print

Hand made by the artist in the darkroom, signed, dated in pencil on verso

7 x 7 in. (17.8 x 17.8 cm)

12 x 12 in. (30.5 x 30.5 cm)

16 x 16 in. (40.6 x 40.6 cm)

Store 59, St. Petersburg, 1994

Store 59, St. Petersburg, 1994
Toned gelatin silver print

Hand made by the artist in the darkroom, signed, dated in pencil on verso

Edition of 10 

12 x 12 in. (30.5 x 30.5 cm)

Man at the Tram Stop, Saint Petersburg, 1992

Man at the Tram Stop, Saint Petersburg, 1992
Toned gelatin silver print

Hand made by the artist in the darkroom, signed, dated on verso

Edition of 10

12 x 12 in. (30.5 x 30.5 cm)

 

Trolley, St. Petersburg, 1992, Vintage gelatin silver print

Trolley, St. Petersburg, 1992

Vintage gelatin silver print

Handprinted by the artist in the darkroom, signed, dated in pencil on verso

7 x 7 in. (17.8 x 17.8 cm), edition of 5

12 x 12 in. (30.5 x 30.5 cm), edition of 10

AT220_001

Kuptchino Railway Station, St. Petersburg, 1993, Toned gelatin silver print

Kuptchino Railway Station, St. Petersburg, 1993

Toned gelatin silver print

Handprinted by the artist in the darkroom, signed, dated in pencil on verso

Edition of 10

12 x 12 in. (30.5 x 30.5 cm)

 

Boarding a Local Train, Kuptchino Railway Station, St. Petersburg, 1993, Toned gelatin silver print

Boarding a Local Train, Kuptchino Railway Station, St. Petersburg, 1993

Toned gelatin silver print

Handprinted by the artist in the darkroom, signed, dated in pencil on verso

Edition of 5

12 x 12 in. (30.5 x 30.5 cm)

"The idea of City of Shadows emerged quite unexpectedly and quite naturally during the collapse [of the Soviet Union] in the fall of 1991. I mean that the concept itself stemmed from my impressions nourished by the everyday reality. At that period, I continued to work on my series Nomenklatura of Signs. Suddenly, at some point I realized that I was struggling with emptiness and that my creative impulses – initially absolutely sincere – were running the risk of contemplating upon ideas no longer valid. This happened because the Soviet people, all these human beings deprived of their individuality and turned into “signs” by a criminal regime, began transforming from smiling and happy-looking “signs” into wandering shadows, even though rejecting the role of a “sign” could result in the loss of life. The year of 1992 was approaching…

 

"The northern city of St. Petersburg is known for its summer “white nights” and its short, dark winter days lasting for just a few hours. In the winter of 1991-1992, one cold and gloomy day, I strolled sadly down a street which used to be packed with people, which used to be full of joyful vibrancy and dynamism. It was poorly lit; evening was settling in. There was not a single car visible. The depressing and strange quietness was interrupted by the sounds of banging grocery store and bakery doors, stores in which the shelves were absolutely empty. I saw people on the verge of insanity, in confusion: unattractively dressed men and women with eyes full of sorrow and desperation, tottering on their routine dreary routes with their last ounce of strength, in search of some food which could prolong their lives and the lives of their families. They looked like shadows, undernourished and worn out. Nothing like that had occurred since World War II, when the Nazis blockaded the city. My impressions as well as my emotional state were enormously powerful and long lasting. I felt an intense desire to articulate these sufferings and grieving, to visualize them through my photographs, to awaken empathy and love for my native city’s inhabitants, people who have been constantly victimized and ruined during the course of the 20th century.

"More than anything, I wanted to convey my “people-shadows” metaphor as accurately as possible. This metaphor became the core of both my new vision and new series. I placed my Hasselblad camera near the entrance to the Vasilievostrovskaia subway station, where the shopping district was located. The events occurring there were imposed on my already mentioned impressions, as were sensations stirred by Shostakovich’s music, and his 13th Symphony in particular, with its movement “At the Store.” A crowd of people flowing near the subway station formed a sort of human sea, providing me with a feeling of non-reality, a phantasmagoria; these people were like shadows from the underworld, a world visited by Aeneas, Virgil’s character. It was a place where time had come to a standstill. This perception of time stopped convinced me that it could also be stopped by means of a camera shutter. I already knew how to achieve this effect, as in my childhood I often took pictures by trying the long exposure process in the dusk and evening, and later, when attending the university at the end of the 1970s and beginning of the 1980s, I studied this technique of 19th-century French photography.

 

"I began taking pictures every day. When several good pictures were accumulated, I started grouping them with the intention of following a certain narrative line. This process helps me to make decisions regarding further subjects to be captured...There is the story behind City of Shadows. As a rule, Shostakovich’s 2nd Cello Concerto and his 13th Symphony accompany the exhibit of this series."

 

Alexey Titarenko

Biography

Click here to read Titarenko’s essay City of Shadows, published in The City is a Novel (Damiani, 2015), in which he describes his coming-of-age as an artist, the social and political context of his work, and some of his greatest influences, in particular Dostoyevsky and Shostakovich.

Born in 1962 in Leningrad, present-day St. Petersburg, Titarenko began taking photographs at a young age and studied in the Department of Cinematic and Photographic Art at Leningrad’s Institute of Culture. He had his first professional success with his series Nomenklatura of Signs (1986-1991), a biting critique of the Soviet bureaucracy that drew on the aesthetics of Kazimir Malevich, Aleksandr Rodchenko, and other artists of the early 20th-century Russian avant-garde. Working in secret, Titarenko conceived the series as a way to translate the visual reality of Soviet life into a language that expressed its absurdity, and to expose the Communist regime as an oppressive system that converted citizens into mere signs. In 1989, Nomenklatura of Signs was included in Photostroyka, a major show of new Soviet photography that toured the United States.

Titarenko rose to international prominence in the early 1990s for City of Shadows, a series of photographs of his native city made in the aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union and inspired by the music of Dmitri Shostakovich and the novels of Fyodor Dostoevsky. Titarenko’s application of long exposures, intentional camera movement, and expert printmaking techniques to street photography produced a powerful meditation on an urban landscape still suffused with a history of suffering. In the decade that followed, his pursuit of the city of his youth led him as far afield as Venice, whose architecture served as a model for St. Petersburg, and Havana, whose streets and buildings remain frozen in the Soviet era.

For the past eight years, Titarenko has turned his lens toward a very different city: New York. In this work, Titarenko brings his longstanding concerns with time and history to bear on a relatively young city known for its relentless, headlong pace. Titarenko’s distinctive long exposures and selective toning highlight the way that architecture not only gives form to the lives of a city’s inhabitants, but also stands as an embodiment of its history. Even in New York, time stands still, if just for a moment: in the defunct fire alarm boxes still posed on busy street corners; in turn-of-the-century façades adorned with the multivalent, overlapping signage of the modern era; and in buildings like the Domino Sugar Factory, a powerful example of the city’s rich past meeting its implacable present.

In 2015, Titarenko’s first monograph, The City is a Novel, was published by Damiani and selected by The Wall Street Journal as one of the best photobooks of the year. For Titarenko, the city not only shapes and influences each individual’s mindset and point of view; it is also a creative force, the stage for narratives in which each of us becomes his or her own distinct character. As he writes in the book, “Universal emotions perpetuated during the last century…constitute the main themes of my photographs, to the extent of transforming the most documentary among them into elements of a novel — not reportage, but a novel, whose central theme is the human soul.”

Titarenko creates each print by hand in his darkroom, producing a rich, subtle range of tones that renders each piece unique. Such masterful printing is particularly suited to Titarenko’s longtime interest in water and its relationship to the city, bringing out the texture and reflective quality of snow, rain, clouds, and urban harbors and waterways, and infusing each image with moisture and light.

Titarenko’s photographs have been shown in over thirty solo exhibitions and over forty group exhibitions around the world. His work can be found in the collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Baltimore Museum of Art; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; the George Eastman House, Rochester; the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven; the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris; the Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne; and the State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg.

Alexey Titarenko lives and works in New York City. His second major publication, Nomenklatura of Signs, was published by Damiani in 2020 and presents the titular body of work in its entirety for the first time.

Selected Exhibitions

2020
Collecting New York's Stories, the Museum of the City of New York, NY, USA

2018
Zerkalo: Forever After, The State Museum and Exhibition Center ROSPHOTO, St. Petersburg, Russia
Pendulum: Merci e Persone in Movimento, The MAST foundation, Bologna, Italy

2017
Alexey Titarenko: The City is a Novel, Damiani Gallery, Bologna, Italy

2015
Alexey Titarenko: Photographs from St. Petersburg (1991-1999), Galerie C, Neufchâtel, Switzerland
Alexey Titarenko: St. Petersburg in Four Movements, Manège Royal, Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Paris, France
Le parfums dans tous les sens, Jardins du Palais Royal, Paris, France

2012
Contemporary Russian Photography: Perestroika Liberalization and Experimentation, Fotofest, Houston, TX

2011
A Revolutionary Project: Cuba from Walker Evans to Now, the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, CA
Alexey Titarenko: Photographs 1986-2010, Lodz International Fotofest. Atlas Sztuki Gallery, Lodz, Poland
Soviet Photography in the 1980s from the Norton and Nancy Dodge Collection, Zimmerli Art Museum, New Brunswick, NJ

2010
Alexey Titarenko: Petersburg in Black & White, Late Revelations, Moscow International Photobiennale, Pobeda Gallery, Moscow, Russia

2008
Unfulfilled Time, curated by Gabriel Bauret, Thessaloniki Photo Biennale, Greece

2007
Vital signs: Place, George Eastman House, Rochester, NY
DE L’EUROPE. Photographies, essais, histoires", Centre National Audiovisuel de Luxembourg, Luxembourg

2004
St. Petersburg: City of Water and City of Shadows, FotoFest, Houston, TX

2002
Alexey Titarenko: Four Movements of St. Petersburg, Reattu Museum, Arles International Photography Festival, Arles, France
Time Regained: Fragments from St. Petersburg series, Manezh Central Exhibition Hall, Moscow, Russia

2000
Alexey Titarenko, Retrospective Exhibition, Galerie Municipale du Chateau d’eau, Festival Garonne, Toulouse, France

1996
Black and White Magic of St Petersburg, Month of European Culture in St. Petersburg, The Grand Hall of St. Petersburg Philharmonic Society, St. Petersburg

1993
Nomenklatura of Signs, Photopostcriptum project, State Russian Musuem, St. Petersburg, Russia

1990
Photostroyka: New Soviet Photography, Burden Gallery, Aperture Foundation, New York (followed by a three‐year U.S. tour)