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© Courtesy of the Lumiere Brothers Center for Photography

End of the world

by at 26/03/2012 19:44

‘Yamal. NonSoviet Photography’ by Alexander Shchemlyayev

Until April 16 at The Lumiere Brothers Center for Photography, 3 Bolotnaya Nab., bldg. 1, m. Kropotkinskaya, lumiere.ru
Open Mon.-Thu. noon-9 pm, Fri. noon-4 am, Sat.-Sun. 11 am-9 pm, closed Mon.

A shaman in ritual glasses, Yamal Peninsula, 1992-93

© Courtesy of the Lumiere Brothers Center for Photography

A shaman in ritual glasses, Yamal Peninsula, 1992-93

Oddly, Alexander Shchemlyayev is not mentioned among the best photographers of the 1980s and 1990s – perhaps because he didn’t shoot political themes or patriotic perfect-life pictures. Shchemlyayev travelled around many countries of the Soviet Union when it was about to collapse, chronicling the everyday life of its regular citizens. Apparently this was so unusual that when he showed his photos to a respected photo editor in 1991, the latter was shocked by Shchemlyayev’s manner: “You simply shoot what you see!”

In 1992-1993 Shchemlyayev lived on the Yamal Peninsula in northwest Siberia, without an assignment, just out of sheer interest and noticeable sympathy in photographing the Nenets, people of the peninsula. In their language “Yamal” means “End of the world”. While the heart of the Soviet Union, Moscow, was trying to be as Western as it could, the Nenets were staying genuinely Soviet, with their unpretentious activities, naivete and plainness, and all this mixed with the exotic atmosphere brought by mountains, deer, tents and shamanism.

Among all this, the new exhibition at the Lumiere Brothers Center for Photography shows such features of Northern Russia as a 5-year-old girl leading a deer, another little girl lulling her father to sleep, boarding house children in identical checked coats near a House of Culture that is screening “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” a woman laughing out loud at a snappy horse, and even a shaman performing his dance. The latter was the most difficult to talk into a photoshoot. He believed Shchemlyayev to be a “bad person, as yours has come, and the sun ran away.”

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