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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 2), St. Petersburg, 1992
Vasileostrovskaya Metro Station (Variant Crowd 2), St. Petersburg, 1992, Toned gelatin silver print
Vasileostrovskaya Metro Station (Variant 2 Crowd 2), Saint Petersburg, 1992
Vasileostrovskaya Metro Station (Variant 3 Crowd 2), Saint Petersburg, 1992
Vasileostrovskaya Metro Station (Variant 4 Crowd 2), Saint Petersburg, 1992
Crowd on Sredniy Prospect (Crowd 3), Saint Petersburg, 1992, Toned gelatin silver print
Vasileostrovskaya Metro Station (Crowd 4), St. Petersburg, 1992
Crowd going to Vasileostrovskaya Metro Station, 1993
Entrance, Vasileostrovskaya Metro Station (Heads), St. Petersburg, 1991-1992
Vasileostrovskaya Metro Station (view from the rooftop), St. Petersburg, 1998-99
Rain on Nevsky Prospect, St. Petersburg, 1994
Grandmother with Grandchild, St. Petersburg, 1992
Black Market, St. Petersburg, 1992
Boy, St. Petersburg, 1993
Three Pensioners Selling Contraband Cigarettes, St. Petersburg, 1992
Store 59, St. Petersburg, 1994
Man at the Tram Stop, Saint Petersburg, 1992
Trolley, St. Petersburg, 1992, Vintage gelatin silver print
Kuptchino Railway Station, St. Petersburg, 1993, Toned gelatin silver print
Boarding a Local Train, Kuptchino Railway Station, St. Petersburg, 1993, Toned gelatin silver print

"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and that my creative impulses – initially absolutely sincere – were running the risk of contemplating upon ideas no longer valid.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


Alexey Titarenko was born in Leningrad in 1962. At age 15, he became the youngest member of the independent photo club Zerkalo (Mirror). He graduated from the Department of Cinematic and Photographic Art at Leningrad’s Institute of Culture in 1983. His series of collages and photomontages Nomenklatura of Signs (first exhibited in 1988 in Leningrad) is a commentary on the Communist regime as an oppressive system that converts citizens into mere signs. In 1989, Nomenklatura of Signs was included in Photostroyka, a major show of new Soviet photography that toured the US.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 he produced several series of photographs about the human condition of the Russian people during this time and the suffering they endured throughout the twentieth century. To illustrate links between the present and the past, he created powerful metaphors by introducing long exposure and intentional camera movement into street photography. The most well known series of this period is City of Shadows. In some images urban landscapes reiterate the Odessa Steps (also known as the Potemkin Stairs) scene from Sergei Eisenstein’s film Battleship Potemkin. Inspired by the music of Dmitri Shostakovich and the novels of Fyodor Dostoevsky, he also translated Dostoevsky’s version of the Russian soul into sometimes poetic, sometimes dramatic pictures of his native city, Saint Petersburg.

Titarenko’s St. Petersburg body of work from the 1990s won him worldwide recognition. In 2002 the International Photography Festival at Arles, France presented this work at the Reattu Museum in the exhibition Les quatres mouvements de St. Petersburg, curated by Gabriel Bauret. In 2005, the French-German TV Channel Arte produced a 30-minute documentary about Titarenko titled Alexey Titarenko: Art et la Maniere.

Titarenko’s prints are subtly crafted in the darkroom. Bleaching and toning add depth to his nuanced palette of grays, rendering each print a unique interpretation of his experience and imbuing his work with a personal and emotive visual character. This particular beauty was recently emphasized during the exhibition of his prints from his Havana series at the Getty Museum (Los Angeles, May-October 2011).

His works are in the collections of major European and American museums, including The State Russian Museum (St. Petersburg); The Getty Museum (Los Angeles); the Baltimore Museum of Art (MD); the Philadelphia Museum of Fine Art; George Eastman House (Rochester, N.Y.); the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston); The Museum of Fine Arts (Columbus, Ohio); the Museum of Fine Arts (Houston); MAST Foundation, Bologna, Italy; the Museum of Photographic Arts (San Diego); the Berkeley Art Museum at University of California, Berkeley; the Davis Museum and Cultural Center at Wellesley College (Mass.); the Denver Art Museum (CO); the European House of Photography (Paris); the Southeast Museum of Photography (Daytona Beach, Fla.); the Santa Barbara Museum of Fin Arts (Cal.); the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University (N.J.); the Reattu Museum of Fine Arts (Arles); and the Musee de l’Elysee Museum for Photography (Lausanne).

Selected Exhibitions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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