My first real connection with street photography came from Robert Frank’s book The Americans, which I was exposed to as an impressionable student in art school. Despite the fact that it’s totally one of those books that you get into in college, it’s managed to stick with me all these years and I consider it to be one of the major cultural influences on my life.
Which, I suppose is neither here nor there; I just mention it in an effort to say that I like street photography. This past spring I found myself indulging that interest by reading a sweet book called Street Photography Now, which is where I came across the Russian photographer Alexey Titarenko.
Now originally I was going to ramble a bit about him here, but I decided to spare you any more exposition and just cut to the chase with a few photos from his project titled City of Shadows (all of which were taken in his native St. Petersburg):
Now I won’t pretend that I know where he’s coming from. After all, I wasn’t raised in communist Russia. As such I have no frame of reference for his portrayal of a failed utopia, a world where the people are ghosts of themselves shambling along through their dreary business of survival. That being said, there’s something there about futility, hopelessness, anonymity and alienation that is universal, and I instantly connected with that something. Intellectually, aesthetically and — on a very primal level — as someone who alternately feels like both the ghosts and the boy. They’re all trapped, just in different ways. And yes, yes — I know how pretentious that sounds. I did mention that I went to art school, right?
For your viewing pleasure, I’ve embedded a documentary about Titarenko that originally aired in Europe. They have it up on YouTube in three parts, and, unfortunately, they all sort of look like shit. I mean, seriously: you have a documentary on a photographer, and the best you can do is 240p? That’s just shameful. And it’s doubly shameful considering that it’s uploaded to Titarenko’s own account! Come on, man — have some self-respect.
Regardless of the video quality, it’s a pretty fascinating piece. Aside from the obligatory biographical information, they show him following an old lady around and taking pictures of her and they never mention whether or not he has permission to do so, which is reasonably creepy. They also show him making a print and briefly talking about the bleaching/toning process he uses that makes his work look so fucking dismal. So check it out! Or not; I don’t really care. Also: visit his site if you want to see/learn more.
Now without further ado, I give you Alexey Titarenko: Art et la Maniere. Just don’t watch it full screen.