(last updated 02/21/01)
Since the breakup of the former Soviet Union, photographic artists from the newly independent Republic of Uzbekistan have produced challenging work that turns the Soviet propaganda function of photography on its head. During the communists period photography was at the service of the state, and its primary theme was the "progress" brought about by interaction with European/Socialist culture. This transfer of culture and ideas was entirely one way, and very few of the photographers of the period were Central Asian themselves.
Over the last fifteen years a few brave photo-journalists have begun taking photographs that are both socially critical and artistically demanding. In part, their work may be seen as a reaction to the clichéd sentimentality of the photos of the past seventy years: there are no more pictures of smiling peasants or overly-restored-mosques-turned-museums. One of the most refreshing aspects of the new photographic works is that they are meaningful as purely personal artistic creations - rather than expressions of ideology as in the past.
Marat Baltabaev and Anatoly Rahimbaev contrast their work to what they call 'postcard photography'. They say their work is "photographing life", by which they mean real life. The peeling paint, dirt roads and generally disheveled air of their pictures is at least as representative of modern Central Asian life as the ancient monuments and government sponsored "folklore" of the Communist period. Life in Central Asia has never been easy; earthquakes and famine, invasions and tyrannical rulers have been all too common. Connections with the outside world ebbed and flowed along with political fortune.
Today the people of Uzbekistan are emerging from 140 years of Russian rule - there is a palpable sense of taking stock of the present. If they find themselves in strange clothes, speaking a foreign language, surrounded by oppressive buildings and monuments, with land and water polluted, well, they've seen worse. The people in the modern Uzbek images are survivors from a long line of survivors. The past may have been dark but the future is really …interesting.
Baltabaev (b. 1961) and Rahimbaev (b. 1957) are freelance photographers who have developed professional careers in advertising and journalism. Neither studied photography in school. Baltabaev earned a technical degree in electro-mechanics before taking up photography in 1983. Rahimbaev initially studied geology, began his photographic work in 1985, and now works at B.V.V. (Business Vestnik Vostoka), a Tashkent newspaper. Dina Khojaeva, also from Tashkent, is a commercial photographer working extensively within the media and entertainment community, and is the daughter of early Soviet photographer Max Penson.
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