Introduction to Serge Poliakov’s photography

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Today I am very pleased to present the work of Serge Poliakov. As always this short piece, an introduction to his work, will initiate SnappedAway In Depth Series of this week’s posts: first an interview, then an opportunity to showcase one project and finally
a selection of one photo picked from the images published during the whole week, which will be later printed on a t-shirt.

Serge is one of those photographers who manage to layer up their images and lure you into their work slowly, bit by bit as you begin feeling familiar in their world you find yourself going through their site, looking for that book you want to buy.

He is a keen and sensitive observer. I can’t help but stare at this dark figure, and that “just right” amount of motion blur makes me cringe. Here is the energy of the city asleep in the background visualised – it’s been sucked out and concentrated into this single silhouette. It’s dark though. It’s explosive and powerful, overflowing with potential, but it’s pitch black, dangerous, and the web of thin branches just next to the hooded demon slowly pushes the tension to the edge of darkness. Makes you think which side of Styx are we on exactly?

Serge has the rare ability to be truly flexible and adjust his tone of voice to whatever he is trying to describe. The three graces here are connected by more than touch and sensuality. A seemingly simple scene, but what exactly are we looking at? You could say we have the Western consumerism slowly trickling in into the post-soviet society, and you would be right (the merchant’s head dress looks awfully like Minnie’s bow, doesn’t it?). The girls wouldn’t be out of place in Oxford Street, they are a part of the global mass market society, equal to their New York, Paris or Tokyo counterparts, even if the global market is just coming to them right now. You would be forgiven for this interpretation, after all, it’s Ukraine, it’s politics, right? I think though, we need to go further, deeper, more basic. Just look at all the items – a buggy, a hover, piles of pretty colourful clothes, and of course the age difference between the women – the girls are buying into their own future, already mapped out for them. The (more than a bit gaudy, in a weirdly cute way) office uniforms hanging on the wall? You better get one of those too. But look at that wall. How old do you think it is? Looks to me like it’s seen a lot of generations buying pretty clothes, raising babies, falling into their own traps. Maybe it’s nothing new, even though the changes seem so drastic and so evident, the pattern isn’t that much of a surprise.

Just as you thought you are on the right track to understand what he is all about, you get this. Suddenly we jump from existential motives to this direct, soft gaze, this underaged Mona Lisa, partly shy partly curious, partly a sexless child partly a young girl, so exactly on the border, so vulnerable, powerless with her hands behind her back and feet outside the frame, cut in half with the male/female spaces. And then, there are the details – the heavy shadow creeping in from the male side, the female light switch, so high on the wall she would probably struggle to turn it off. She is about to leave the safety of her female world and face the male dominated one, with not much safety waiting for her there. I try not to give grand statements while writing these reviews, but I can’t help myself this time – this must be one of the best portraits I’ve seen in a long while. I’m not very big on portraits, but it’s this kind of work that proves me wrong by reminding me it’s all about how serious the artist is about his craft.

Then there are lighter images such as this one, slightly melancholic, with a touch of humour. It’s the low angle that makes this what it is, you can’t help but appreciate Serge’s virtuosity.

Pure gender theatre, the body language so clear cut against the vastness of the sea, the annoyed women, bored, tense, silently waiting, their clothes on, they are on duty, always, they cannot simply relax and float, while the man pretends not to understand his privileged position, playing the fool while taking his sweet time, just chillin.

An image almost resembling classic street photography, we’re a bit closer now, the actors are here just in front of us, not in our faces though, still a respectful distance away. Look at the lead in his black coat, poker face on, he doesn’t care the opportunity left him out, he is not bothered, he’s a man in his prime, look, he will simply smoke now, keeping his cool. There will be another opening soon. If not, he’ll deal with it. Have some self-respect, will you. And the light, the light running through the whole thing, hotspots of heat, the heat of faces and of a personal flame, personal choice not to submit, all set against the cold blue sky.

Another airy moment, a break of tension. It’s an institution, but it’s homely, warm, maybe a bit worn out but hey, look at that smile. Suddenly life is easy, never mind the artificial flowers, the paint peeling off the walls, sit down and eat, the power behind the institution is long gone, you can rest, it’s harmless now, eat, the food is hot. The sweetness of a lie, don’t disturb it, enjoy the lie for this brief moment, eat, you look too thin anyway.

Back to reality, back to the mass, the inhumane tower blocks, the dirty snow, the mud, wonky cracked stairs and the glow of the homemade ads, back to the black hole of the demon. The demon is not an acrobat now, look, he got older, he is walking away, but don’t worry, he’ll be back.

This is not a beach, this a surface of a desolate planet. Look at this cowboy, under the artificial sun, this muscular middle aged American Jesus and his donkey, the cross replaced by an umbrella in the religion of fun. The donkey is a robot, look, there is a streak of blue light emanating from his insides, it is an imitation, a fake. Another lie, beware, a lie torn from the night by this harsh light.

Yes, the religion of fun. A distorted Disney space ship has just landed in this post soviet somber space. The building behind on the left? Why that’s the secret service, they allowed this acidic merry go round here just so that they can watch you from the window with a long lens. But the people are not convinced, they’ve been through enough to sense a trap from a distance, they ignore it or just glare wearingly.

The people are all here, they need a breather. They relax, they get off the pier, which looks like it has been bombed just yesterday, they swim in the heavy sea. Not everyone, no, there is still business going on in the distance, and yes, there is the old man – is he reading the paper? Someone has to be on guard.

They’re all gone now, but the view, the pier, the horizon and the distance are still here. Watch your back though, there might be another lens pointed at you. Or two.

If you enjoyed reading this post stay with us for more of Serge Poliakov’s photography. Also you might want to check his website to find out more about his work.

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