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Time Standing Still (1997 - 2000)

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Begging Woman, Haymarket Square, St. Petersburg, 1999
Newsstand, St. Petersburg, 1999
Stairs of Lenin Prospect Railway Station, St. Petersburg, 1994
Haymarket Square from the Rooftop, St. Petersburg, 1998
Sennaya Square in Winter, St. Petersburg, 1999
Passageway, St. Petersburg, 1998
Woman Selling Flowers, St. Petersburg, 1998
Street Market, St. Petersburg, 1995
Blind Musicians, St. Petersburg, 1995
Glove, St. Petersburg, 2000
Line to Buy Milk Outside Prison, St. Petersburg, 1999
Old-fashioned Moskvitch (cars/feet), St. Petersburg, 1995
Birch trees, Lake near Ozerki Metro Station, St. Petersburg, 1999
Lake Near Ozerki Metro Station, St. Petersburg, 1999

“In August 1998, a terrible crisis shook the country once more. The national currency, the ruble, became mere paper in just a few days. The collapse of the economy buried the aspirations of Russian citizens, their savings lost because of failed banks. The population poured out into the street. Some begged, some turned to prostitution, others hastily set up shop with all they could sell or trade: gold, milk powder, watches, onion bulbs, jewelry, cigarettes, porcelain, matches, bronze sculptures, worn shoes, potatoes, old books. This ongoing chaos transformed the entire city into an immense black market. Two very different photographs, one of which reveals the opposite of the other, symbolized this period: ‘A View of the Sennaya Square,’ created a few days after the beginning of the crisis, and ‘A Begging Woman’ taken a year later.

“Photographed from the roof of a house, the first shows Sennaya Square (Hay Market Square), which is emblematic of Saint Petersburg…After Dostoyevsky’s death, and especially during the Soviet era, Hay Market was transformed. The Russian Orthodox Church that dominated the square’s southeast corner was demolished and later replaced by metro and bus stations. More crucially, the square ceased to be what it had always been: a marketplace. Within a year of the USSR’s disintegration, poverty, famine, and the explosion of crime had brought more changes than the preceding forty years...

“Toward the end of 1998, this neighborhood saw some revitalization. Small stalls were replaced by more civilized kiosks. In summer, when most of the city’s population escapes to the country, the square becomes almost empty. This is especially true in mid-August, when fruits and vegetables begin to emerge in people’s gardens. However, on the day when ‘A View of the Sennaya Square’ was taken, everything was very different. Ordinary Russians were abandoning their dachas and gardens and returning to the city to buy whatever was available before it was too late, with money that was losing its value by the minute. This is the moment that corresponds to the photograph. There remains, however, a small detail in the center of the image: a couple—perhaps two young lovers—immobile in what seems like a kiss. This detail marks a huge departure from the past. The couple contributes a more romantic atmosphere to this image—an atmosphere less desperate than in the preceding City of Shadows series."

“The other photo, ‘A Begging Woman,’ was taken a year later in the same place, but from another angle, at the level of the muddy pavement. In the twilight of a damp, foggy evening at the end of autumn, I was passing by the market. An old woman was sitting in the middle of the sidewalk covered by viscous brown mud. People walked past her without paying any attention. Around her, all was gray and gloomy. What attracted me to her was a piece of paper she was holding in her hand. The paper was very clear, almost shining, catching the last rays of light. It seemed to be the mirror of her soul, a cry of distress. It bore this message: ‘For the love of God, please, help me.’ One of the main ideas that I wanted to highlight in this particular print was the old woman’s solitude. To capture that, I had to create an ambience of confinement around her—a kind of dense smog, clouding the image at its edges. Naturally, for this poor elderly pensioner reduced to life on the streets, forced to beg from passers-by, a sentiment of compassion would overwhelm the beholder.

“If there is compassion, there must also be love and understanding. And perhaps it is with these qualities that a person can reunite himself with one of the roles of an artist and one of the functions of art.”

— Alexey Titarenko, from the essay "City of Shadows, as published in The City is a Novel (Damiani, 2015)


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 — St. Petersburg has been called "the Venice of the North" due to its canals and to the influence of the European architects who helped build the city — and Havana, whose streets and buildings remain frozen in the Soviet era.

In recent 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 Baltimore Museum of Art; the Columbus Museum of Art; the Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, VA; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Middlebury College Museum of Art, Middlebury, VT; the Museum of Fine Arts, Denver; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Museum of the City of New York; the Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego; the Santa Barbara Museum of Art; the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the George Eastman House, Rochester; the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven; the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ; the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris; the European House of Photography, Paris; the Musée Réattu, Arles; the Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne; the Centre National de l'Audiovisuel, Dudelange, Luxemburg; the Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow; and the State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, among other museums.

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

Blur at Photo Elysee museum in Lausanne, Switzerland (3 March - 25 May 2023).
Awe-Some: Time :: Materiality :: Meaning at the Harn Museum of Art (November 22, 2022 - May 14, 2023)

Alexey Titarenko: City of Shadows, retrospective exhibition at the National Gallery in Sofia, Bulgaria
Alexey Titarenko at Revela'T Festival 2022 in Vilassar de Dalt, Spain

Alexey Titarenko: The City of Shadows, retrospective exhibition, The State Russian Museum, and Exhibition Centre ROSPHOTO, St. Petersburg
Solo exhibition at Paris Photo, Grand Palais Éphémère, Paris, France

Alexey Titarenko: City of Shadows, retrospective exhibition, Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow, Russia
Collecting New York's Stories, the Museum of the City of New York, NY, USA
Alexey Titarenko, Festival Photo La Gacilly-Baden, Austria

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

Alexey Titarenko: The City is a Novel, Damiani Gallery, Bologna, Italy
Alexey Titarenko: The City is a Novel, Nailya Alexander Gallery, New York, NY

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
Alexey Titarenko: New York, Nailya Alexander Gallery, New York, NY

Contemporary Russian Photography: Perestroika Liberalization and Experimentation, Fotofest, Houston, TX
New York: Stieglitz to Titarenko, Nailya Alexander Gallery, New York, NY

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
Alexey Titarenko: St. Petersburg in Four Movements, Nailya Alexander Gallery, New York, NY

Temps perdus, curated by Gabriel Bauret, Thessaloniki Photo Biennale, Greece
Alexey Titarenko: Venice, Nailya Alexander Gallery, New York, NY

Vital signs: Place, George Eastman House, Rochester, NY
DE L’EUROPE. Photographies, essais, histoires", Centre National Audiovisuel de Luxembourg, Luxembourg
Alexey Titarenko: Havana, Nailya Alexander Gallery, New York, NY

Northern Lights, Nailya Alexander Gallery, New York, NY

St. Petersburg: City of Water and City of Shadows, FotoFest, Houston, TX
Alexey Titarenko: Time Standing Still, Nailya Alexander Gallery, New York, NY

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
Le Temps Inachevé, Nei Liicht Gallery, Dudelange, Luxemburg
Nomenklatura of Signs (audiovisual projection), Keep the light on..., Centre National de l'Audiovisuel, Clerveaux Castle, Luxemburg
Magician of St. Petersburg, Garry Edwards Gallery, Washington, DC, USA
Biarritz Terre d'Images, Biarritz, France

Ville des Ombres: Alexey Titarenko, photographies, Musée de Nice, Galeries des Ponchettes, Nice, France

New Soviet Photography, Karlsruhe Art Museum, Karlsruhe, Germany
Self-Identification, National Museum of Contemporary Art, Oslo, Norway

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

City of Shadows, Gallery 21, Cultural Center Pushkinskaya 10, St. Petersburg, Russia

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

Experiences photographiques russes, Month of Photography in Paris, Grand Ecran, Paris, France
Nomenklatura of Signs (audiovisual projection), Centre National de Photographie, Palais de Tokyo, Paris, France

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

Nomenklatura of Signs, Ligovka-199 Exhibition Hall, Leningrad, USSR
Visages de Leningrad, Drouart Gallery, Paris, France

1983, 1986, 1988
Solo exhibitions, Nevskiy Prospekt 90, Leningrad, USSR

Annual review exhibitions of Zerkalo Photographic Club, Kirov Palace of Culture, Leningrad, USSR

Zerkalo Photographic Club Second Exhibition, Kirov Palace of Culture, Leningrad, USSR
Leningrad from another side, Zerkalo Photographic Club, Kirov Palace of Culture, Leningrad, USSR