Ukraine Everywhere: Kharkiv School of Photography

Ukraine Everywhere is the interdisciplinary programme of the Ukrainian Institute to showcase Ukraine’s contribution to the world culture via online projects. “Kharkiv School of Photography: Soviet Censorship to New Aesthetics”: an online archive of late Soviet and post-Soviet photography with research materials and photo stories goes public.

Cover photo: Roman Pyatkovka. The Maternity Ward, 1989. Courtesy of VASA Project

The online resource “Kharkiv School of Photography: Soviet Censorship to New Aesthetics”, created within the programme #UkraineEverywhere. It is the largest online archive of the most famous Ukrainian photographic movement – the Kharkiv School of Photography.

The post-Soviet viewer is not always ready to accept the stark visual language of this school, its outright boldness, and the issues it raises (lives of the homeless, outspoken masculine corporeality, dilapidating post-Soviet hospitals, etc.). The school develops the concept of visual “blow” that was conceived in the 1930s by German and Soviet masters of visual art. The historian Bohdan Shumylovych notes that “in this feature of Kharkiv photography researchers often saw the revival of the aesthetics of Dadaism.” Tetiana Pavlova terms KSP “green avant-garde” as opposed to the “red avant-garde” of the 1920s.

Guennadi Maslov. 1990. Courtesy of VASA Project

If we were to analyze the whole image and style of the Kharkiv photo school (known as ‘brutal’), we would clearly see the green hippie line running through it. Naturalization, or natural instinct behaviors, were the main principles of this period.

Tetiana Pavlova
Konstantin Melnik. The end of 1980s. Tatiana and Evgeniy Pavlov Archive

The viewer of Kharkiv photographers’ oeuvre will learn not only about the artistic processes but also, say, how the urban environment in Ukraine has developed for the last half-century – from cultural spaces to ordinary everyday life; how the canon of beauty and the masculinity and femininity concepts interpretation transformed in the post-Soviet territory; why, even in modern Ukraine, the body is a metaphor for the boundaries of individuality and personality, a trigger of “public morals”. The non-conformist artists existed under the strict control of the Soviet system, but they managed to wriggle from under and establish contact with European art movements despite the Iron Curtain.

Vladimir Starko. Untitled. 1980s. Courtesy of VASA Project
Misha Pedan. Untitled, 1980s. Courtesy of VASA Project

The very term “school” is being debated today, as these associations of Kharkiv photographers were informal. However, it was under this name, the Kharkiv School of Photography, that this movement entered the history of modern Ukrainian visual art.

Anatoly Makienko. Autumn, 1990s. Courtesy of VASA Project
Grigory Okun. Untitled, 1980s. Tatiana and Evgeniy Pavlov Archive

The project curator is Igor Manko, a second KSP generation artist. Project partners: VASA Project and MOKSOP (the Museum of Kharkiv School of Photography). The project is implemented by Bagels & Letters PR Agency and is part of the Ukrainian Institute #UkraineEverywhere programme for presenting Ukraine’s visual culture online.

The Ukrainian Institute is a public institution affiliated with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine. Its mission is to strengthen Ukraine’s international standing through the means of cultural diplomacy. The Ukrainian Institute facilitates international connections between people and institutions and creates opportunities for Ukraine to interact and cooperate with the world.

Translate »