Pastime 23 Novokuznetsk, Russia
© Nikolay Bakharev courtesy Michael Hoppen Contemporary
Vintage silver gelatin print
30 x 30 cm
Nikolay Bakharev was born in 1946 in Mikhailovka, in the Russian region of Altai. Aged 4, he was placed in an orphanage after both his parents died, where he remained until he was 16.
After a period working as a mechanic in a metallurgy plant, he began his career as a photographer.
His work bridges a gap between documentary, eroticism and social commentary.
Although intimate, it would be wrong to regard his images as home-spun eroticism. His photographs are of individuals like himself- from the same background and circumstances, living through the same period of political change. At the moment the shutter closes however, he has separated himself from his subjects portrayals of beauty, love and sex. By removing himself from his surroundings, he exposes his greater comprehension, and detachment.
In the USSR there were 2 major ways to be a photographer:
1) You work in the Soviet press, and are told what to picture and how to do it.
2) you worked for Sluzhba Byta.
Everyone needs photos taken, for passports and other official uses. People also get married and wish for that to be documented. People want to have memorable and flattering photographs of themselves. This was a work of a normal photographic atelier, only it was owned by the state and centralized. There was nothing artistic in this kind of work, but it gave access to necessary supplies (which were expensive) and camera's.
Bakharev started taking pictures on public beaches in the late 70s, and this was when his first 'real' pictures were taken. He became fascinated with the human body and its opposition to the spiritual.
What he would do (and still does) was to approach people at the beach, and offer to photograph them. To those who said yes, he would then start manipulating them, building a composition that would not be flattering to participants, but would correspond to his own goals. As he says, very often people refuse to pay for what he shows them. 'But then, in such cases I sometimes get something for myself'.
A picture taken in the late 70s of two young men with tattoos could have been damaging to their careers, as tattoos were normally a sign of a non-conformist or a criminal. In the 90s Bakharev approached an old, one-eyed man on the same beach. The man recognized him as having taken his picture 20 years ago. He was one of the same two men, quite unrecognizable. Bakharev photographed him again.
Another image shows a happy-looking man and a woman with a black eye, holding a baby. Bakharev was walking by a street, when a drunk stormed up to him saying ‘I have a son born! You're a photographer, go take his picture!’ Bakharev did. When he returned several days later with prints, the lady told him that her spouse has been imprisoned. And she wouldn't need the picture. In these ways, he has been able to build up a a body of work that represented his own vision.
When Bakharev starts working with a model he may not describe what he wants he or she to do, but is very good at persuading his subjects to do things or behave differently in front of the camera.
He takes pictures, and discusses submerging the model into his universe. At some point, these people become his clay; they represent not themselves, but become parts of Bakharevs vision. Some get hugely offended when they see what Bakharevs results. People want and expect to be beautiful in photos, especially after an 8-hour session but he is building a beauty of a completely different kind, impenetrable to an unexperienced or unknown viewer.
Bakharev was always driven by a desire to capture his vision, but not through documentary, but also through manipulation. His concern has always been the mundane and its manifestations; the everyday life of people in the USSR in 70s-80s is poorly documented; how they looked, what they thought of themselves. This is especially true of erotica, and Bakharev is one of the only chroniclers of this time.
In the 1970s and 80s, photographers when artistic aspirations were converging around amateur photography societies, and knew a lot of each other's work, as the societies were mailing each other prints. In the late 80s, Bakharev had taken opportunities to be exhibited and known better, but this was a very localized art scene.
Later in the late 90s, he went to Moscow, but never became the glamour or celebrity photographer that his gallerist wanted him to be. He photographed some celebrities then, but didn't like the work, and after staying half a year in Moscow, went back to Novokuznetsk which still inspires him today.
He has had exhibitions in Russia and taken part in several group shows in Europe, but has not yet got the recognition that he truly deserves.