Photographs Capture Diversity of Rural Russians

Anastasia KhoroshilovaKhoroshilova traveled rural Russia looking for people willing to pose for her. The fifty two portraits are now on show.
Photographer Anastasia Khoroshilova experiments with two extremes in her two exhibitions, "Russkiye," at the Moscow Museum of Modern Art, and "Exercises," at the Stella Art Foundation.

"Russkiye" consists of 52 portraits of Russians -- at least, Russian by nationality -- some of whom don't even speak Russian. Khoroshilova's first portrait depicts a small boy in the republic of Chuvashia who didn't speak a word of the language. Another portrait shows four generations of women from the Northern Caucuses.

The exhibition is in Moscow after being shown at the State Gallery of Augsburg in Germany. The collection of portraits will return to Germany for the third part of its European tour in January.

"For most of those who come here, they will be very surprised. After you go through this project, you're not sure if it is about Russians, or if it's about Russia, and what the artist is saying about the nation. In fact she's speaking very personally -- it's a chain of personal conversations," said exhibition curator Georgy Nikich.


Anastasia Khoroshilova
Varied faces inspired Khoroshilova.


The original inspiration for the project came from a speech of former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev's that Khoroshilova chanced upon. In the speech, Brezhnev talks not of the diversity of Russians but rather about "one Soviet folk." During her time living in Germany, Khoroshilova found this stereotype among foreigners as well. "In my opinion, many people think Russians are all the same. They think everything from Vladivostok to Kaliningrad, from the East to West is all the same population."

Khoroshilova believes the value of the exposition is in the entirety of the show. "These are all projections of how people see themselves in this context. It's not important where, it's just important to show the mixture."

Khoroshilova travelled around rural Russia for two years, asking models to choose the place, time and clothes in which to take their portraits. "The concept of the series is interacting and collaboration with my models," she said. "That is usual for my work. I don't go there for an hour and do the shot -- I lived there. I lived there sometimes for a week, sometimes for a couple of days. I stayed in their homes, and I did the pictures at the end. That way they feel OK with me."

This personal touch is what Nikich feels draws people into the portraits. "It's very natural. She is very talented in human communication herself, so you connect with the people in the photos," he said.

"Exercises," on the other hand, represents the complete opposite in terms of production from "Russkiye." All shot in one day, the show consists of five triptychs, three slides together, and five photos depicting fight scenes between Russian soldiers.

"The thing was to show very progressive slides, such as the slide before someone dies, or really the moment of. The frozen moment," she explained.

Khoroshilova was inspired by battle scenes on Greek vases, which show neither the beginning nor end of a fight, and Soviet books on how to fight that she obtained from her grandfather.

Despite the violence depicted, the exhibition is not prohibitively explicit. "This is slow motion," she said. "It's obvious that it's not real, but the idea is that people will stop when they see these pictures and think about the sense of it and about how brutal these fights are."

"Exercises" runs until Jan. 18 at the Stella Art Foundation, 7 Skaryatinsky Pereulok. Metro Barrikadnaya. Tel.: 691-3407.

"Russkiye" runs until Jan. 4 at the Moscow Museum of Modern Art, 25 Ulitsa Petrovka. Metro Kuznetsky Most. Tel.: 694-6660.