Boris Savalev : 31 Years

21 Apr - 26 Jun 2009

The Michael Hoppen Gallery is delighted to announce ’31 Years’; an exhibition of work by Boris Savelev, one of Russia’s most important and renowned photographers. It will be the first time his work will be shown in the UK.

‘31 Years’ is a series of photographs created by Savelev from 1976 to 2006. It documents not only his changing sensibilities and aesthetic concerns; light and form, flashes of colour, moments created by the interaction of individuals within their urban landscape, but also his experimentation with both kallitype over silver gelatin and meticulously multi layered pigment prints, which feed and inform the resulting images.

In 1986, the economic freedoms instituted by Gorbachev under perestroika and the problems caused by these reforms arguably helped to begin the unraveling of Soviet society and hastened the end of the Soviet Union. Savelev was one of a generation of artists who emerged from within the former USSR, and his photographs of ordinary urban life in this period were the first of their kind to be seen in the west, with the publication of Secret City by Thames and Hudson in 1988. 

Boris Savelev’s background was in aeronautics. Having earned a degree from Moscow’s Aviation Institute in 1972, he pursued a career as an engineer in his chosen field for a decade thereafter. But within two years of his graduation, he had also begun working free-lance in photography, which he had been interested in since he was a teenager and to which he switched permanently in 1983. He has been exhibiting and publishing pictures made over the last thirty years not only in Russia or the Ukraine, but in intensive projects he has undertaken in London, Rome, Berlin and Madrdid. Yet, despite all this cosmopolitan activity, his photographic vision has remained extraordinarily consistent and true to its origins. 

At first, Boris’s images seem to have a melancholy that can be seen as a reflection of a specifically Russian sensibility. On deeper reflection it is their humour and playfulness, their delight in moments that occur momentarily that characterise his images; odd details of human life in its urban setting are presented in a highly deliberate but off hand way. His use of colour and light is masterful: each photograph functions as a powerful abstract statement as well as a fragment of reality.

The pigment transfer prints were made at Factum Arte in Madrid and are part of an ongoing collaboration with Adam Lowe to perfect the process. The multi-layered digital printing on Factum Arte’s flatbed printer provides a new level of control over surface and depth of tone. Each print has many layers which sit on a coating of gesso which is in turn on aluminium and then the image is waxed to complete this unique process. The resultant subtlties of tone make first hand viewing of these extraordinary prints essential.

Savelev’s extraordinary photographic work has earned him a place in major international collections worldwide, among them, the Corcoran Galley in Washington, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), the Staatsgallerie of Stuttgart, the Saarland Museum in Saarbrucken, Germany, the Museum of Fine Arts in Santa Fe and many other major institutions.