In the Face of History: European Photographers in the 20th Century: Barbican Art Gallery

Yesterday I attended an exhibition of photography at the Barbican entitled In the Face of History: European Photographers in the 20th Century. Here there were some works by Boris Mikhailov. The accompanying wall text blurb described a set of them thusly:

The Soviet Union disintegrated in autumn 1991, and 90 per cent of the Ukraine voted for independence. In Mikhailov’s world, red has vanished to be replaced by the non-colour, brown. Shot covertly with a panoramic ‘horizon’ camera hanging at his waist, Mikhailov’s sepia-toned panoramas record a decaying city and a population reduced to the lowest levels of survival. Mikhailov hangs this series low on the wall, forcing the viewer to stoop to the same uncomfortable level. (my emphasis)

And do you know what?

I could look at the entire set face-on without having to stoop or bend at all – in fact, after having my neck tilting up at a slight angle for well over an hour, the scenes of bleached dilapidation and social ruin were a physical relief.

The entire business made me thing three things.

  1. That one man’s sombre record of his country’s disintegration is another (wo)man’s relief.
  2. That the depression I have suffered at various point in my life is because I see the world from entirely the wrong height and am therefore experiencing things through the perspective of the artistically dispossessed (although I don’t see in sepia as far as I’m aware).
  3. That I’m going to have to start wearing platform shoes to galleries.
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