Anatoliy Makiyenko: Three Periods and Three Modes of Photography

19/09/19

Nadia Kovalchuk

Evgeniy Pavlov, Untitled (portrait of Anatoliy Makiyenko), ca. 1974-1975, gelatin-silver print. Image courtesy of Anatoliy Makiyenko.

More than a thirty-year-old photographic practice of Anatoliy Makiyenko belongs to Kharkiv School of Photography, the characteristics of which were recognised and systematised not so long ago [1]. Unlike his colleagues from the “Vremia” group [Time], whose creative work is most efficient to analyze according to techniques (Oleksandr Suprun and Oleg Maliovany) or series (Boris Mikhailov, Evgeniy Pavlov), Anatoliy Makiyenko divides his creative path into periods. In the 1970s his photos created as individual and autonomous works, belong more to the tendency following “the imperative of complex photography” [2] with its technical and formal experiments (A Nocturne for Mr. Bredbury, Flora, Polonaise). Later, however, he creates series of direct photography, with a banal, deserted and voiceless landscape shot in the neighbourhood of the Kharkiv Traktor Plant as the centerpiece (Autumn Around My Building, Posts). Ultimately, at the beginning of the 2000s, he uses the digital photo to rethink the principle of seriality in photography, exploring initially uncompositional Kharkiv environment [3].

Born in 1949 in Kharkiv, Anatoliy Makiyenko joins the semiofficial Vremia group in 1974. The group was created by ambitious photographers in the framework of the regional photo club in the House of Amateur Arts of Trade Unions in Gamarnika street. Although virtually the only public display of the group’s work was their exhibition in the House of Scientists, organised ten years after the group founded, its members managed to publish their works not only in the Communist bloc countries’ periodicals popular with progressive photographers (Polish magazine Fotografia  [4], Czechoslovakian monthly publication Československá Fotografie [5] or in Fotografie that was issued in GDR [6]) but also in the Soviet photographic monthly publication Sovetskoe Foto [7]. The latter is even more impressive as the group’s approach to photography didn’t even closely correspond to the main method of the official one, social realism, and, consequently, to the format of its main mouthpiece, which Sovetskoe Foto was. If official photos were characterised by “the loyalty to the truth of life”, “optimistic view of the world” and “biased partyness”[8], then the creative works of the Vremia group members that would later become the foundation of the whole Kharkiv School of Photography, defines an outspokenly subjective approach to photography [9].

In 1975, two years after the photos from Anatoliy Makiyenko’s friend, Evgeniy Pavlov, Violin series were published, Polish monthly magazine Fotografia published two works by Makiyenko himself A Nocturne for Mr. Bredbury (which appears in the publication as Unnamed) and A Hard Day (another title version is In the Field)

Centerfold of Fotografia magazine, 1975, n° 7, pages 222-223. Photo by the researcher.

Even though the photos are addressing the topics that were traditional for the Soviet publicity photography, such as work and childhood, the interpretation of those images eludes from the ideological task of the propaganda and turns out to be more meaningful than Sovetskoe Foto reports. A countrywoman, captured in a dynamic composition, is bent under the weight of her canvas bag and is frowning as she walks a beaten path towards the viewer. The path behind her back vibrates and becomes similar to glistening water, while the tall grass “singing” to the right of the woman dissolves into abstract spots of photo grain as it reaches the path at the horizon. The effect of losing the materiality and turning reality into its own vague misty reflection is rather giving the image the status of an anxious dream than that of an objective photo document, which was the main function of photography in the Soviet Union. Like in many of his later works, Makienko invests a traditional motif with subjectivity giving it an oniric dimension.

Anatoliy Makienko, “A Hard Day” (“In the Field”), 1974, gelatin silver print, stand development. MOKSOP’s collection.

The same dimensions structure other photos that complement the A Hard Day. On the reverse side of the print of MOKSOP collection, it is signed, apparently, by Boris Mikhailov, as A Nocturne for Mr. Bredbury. Not only the topic of the path and the opposition of summer-childhood-carefreeness to autumn-aging-work repeat themselves in it, but also the topic of irreality and fabulousness.

Anatoliy Makienko, “Nocturne for Mr. Bredbury”, 1974, duping process, gelatin silver print. MOKSOP’s collection.

Using the method of negative duplication and deforming with a superwide-angle lens, he constructs a laconic photography-metaphor, which refers to fragility, naivety and enigmaticalness as opposed to endurance, resilience and industriousness, heroised in the official ideology. According to the author’s memories, in the 70s, everyone was obsessed with science fiction — the Strugatskys’ and Stanisław Lem’s novels, and “the feeling of something new” was floating in the air. Jan Sunderland, a photographer and critic working for Fotografia magazine, when commenting on Makienko’s works, sees Andersen’s fairytale motif in A Nocturne [10]. Eventually, the very title of the work, dedication to an American science-fiction writer, Ray Bredbury, the allusion to whom is most probably connected with his lyric short novel Dandelion Wine, also says for the keynote of searching for the incredible in the ordinary.

The co-called Soviet new wave in cinema, represented by Sergey Paradzhanov and Andrey Tarkovsky, is also characterised by the shift from depicting, or, rather, constructing reality according to the ideological patterns. The enchanted worlds of their films, so hard to understand for the Soviet viewers, packed with references to the world art history, as well as the creative energy of the local folklore, undoubtedly influenced the development of the “fantastic” direction in the works of all Vremia members. Anatoliy Makiyenko, just as Evgeniy Pavlov or Oleg Maliovany, remember Andrey Tarkovsky’s visit to Kharkiv at the beginning of the 1970s. Back then, the iconic director personally presented each one of his films at a full retrospective, leaving an unforgettable impression in the minds of the young people longing for changes in the photographers’ visual language that was accessible to them.

The experimental direction Makiyenko develops in his photography practice in the course of the 1970s is linked to several reasons. One of them is his technical profession which the author studied at Kharkiv University. Being a distinctive feature of most photographers related to unofficial Kharkiv photography at that time, it contributed to closer understanding as well as mastering multiple physical and chemical processes in photography. Numerous brave inventions of other Vremia members and, consequently, of the author’s immediate circle also were aimed at invasion and destruction of the material of direct photography. Finally, this interest in “lab” photography was connected with the concurrent tendencies in the photography of the western countries of the communist bloc. Brought up on the legacy of Ian Bulgak, the generation of photographers that actively work in the ’60s and ’70s in Poland, Czechoslovakia and partially in the Baltic states were fascinated with photomontage, solarization, posterisation and other photographic techniques. According to Makiyenko’s memories, as they were looking through an issue of the famous and rare in Kharkiv Polish Fotografia magazine together with Evgeniy Pavlov, he was mesmerised and impressed by a fantastic photomontage with a hand growing out of a staircase, which dragged the amazed viewer into the world of the war against photographic material for a long time. This evidence allows us to grasp the meaning and the fruitfulness of the communication environment created in Kharkiv by the photographers of the Vremia group, as well as the popularity that Czechoslovakian and Polish photography had among unofficial Soviet photographers in the after-Thaw years.

Downright experiment and playing with material lets a photographer simultaneously become a demiurge, a creator of their own imaginary reality, and throw into question the official concept of photography as a direct reflection of reality or a document, irrefutable evidence of a depicted event. Flora has a crucial place in the gradual movement towards the destruction of objective reality in Makiyenko’s work. Created in the technique of combining a negative with a positive, it has a different concept from similar experiments carried out by the protagonists of The New Vision movement and other avant-garde photographers of the beginning of the 20th century including Man Ray. While the latter eliminates all the secondary details without exception in his famous solarizations, Makiyenko creates a more complex image structure keeping the shades of grey that form the rose in the foreground.

Anatoly Makienko, works from 1970s.

At the end of the 1970s, Anatoliy Makiyenko got interested in the topic of a window, which he would refer to throughout the next decade. It was the window that becomes one of the first objects that the author consistently studied with the help of “direct” photography that would drive out all experimental techniques in the second period of his photography career. Traditional topic in artistic photography symbolises a transition from private and internal to external and public, while the topic of the window serves as the metaphor of photography itself — an intermediary between the viewer and the outside world. It was developed to the fullest by Josef Sudek, a Czech photographer, who started taking pictures of a window the year the Nazis came to his hometown, Prague. Just like Sudek, Makiyenko is interested in light that goes through the glass enveiling objects behind the window with a soft glow and dispersing on the walls of the inside space. However, unlike the images of Sudek, in Makiyenko’s Window created in 1978, all the frame serves only as a conductor of blinding light, while the outside landscape is left invisible to the viewer. All the image turns into an abstract geometric composition structured by vertical and diagonal lines. The composition gets even simpler in the photograph of a window that the author took before 1986 — it consists of nothing but horizontal and vertical lines of the frame, shutter and the curtain when the light from the outside reveals the texture of the semitransparent textile, which forms dense shadows in the places where it folds.

Anatoliy Makienko, Untitled, 1980, gelatin silver print. Image courtesy of the artist.
Anatoliy Makienko, Untitled, 1978, gelatin silver print. MOKSOP’s collection.
Anatoliy Makienko, Untitled, pre-1986, gelatin silver print. Image courtesy of the artist.

The series of photos with windows marked two later tendencies in Makiyenko’s work — the disappearance of people from his photographs and his interest in the exploration of the surrounding space by organizing it compositionally in the framework of the object-finder.

The geometrization of space found its most obvious expression in Anatoliy Makiyenko’s work Autumn (1987-1989). In it, the author turns to the practice that was strong in the Kharkiv School, which is colouring black-and-white prints. Each of the objects of a landscape or an interior becomes an important element of a well-balanced composition, where bright colours emphasise the tension between lines and shapes in the image. Nevertheless, accidentality as one of the essential features of photography is still visible in this modernist attempt of constructing light through universal geometric shapes. In one of the photographs, among rhythmic posts and the lace of power transmission lines, suddenly, a yellow airplane appears. The author doesn’t disguise it but deliberately highlights it with contrast to celestial-blue yellow. In another photograph, he offhandedly outlines a bird, the only living being that got in the shot, with red. The geometricity of the composition dissolves under the influence of the multitude of textures, on which one can see the glimmer and shine of colour shading: rough surfaces acquire a sensual, tactile dimension, and the air gets the mass and weight.

Anatoly Makienko, Untitled from Autumn series, 1987-1989, gelatin silver print, hand-coloured. mage courtesy of the artist.

In painting, the simplest geometric compositions first of all refer you to the legacy of neoplasticism, constructivism and suprematism. But when it comes to Makiyenko’s photography it is important to parallel it with Alexander Sliussarev’s “metaphysical photography”, in which “Subject situations […] are nothing but a moment in the flow of time. But compositions that are built on a balanced combination of horizontal and vertical lines are monumental like something eternal and unchangeable.” [11]. Sure enough, the Moscow photographer wasn’t only a Makiyenko’s contemporary and a member of the ephemeral Group of Four from Chernivtsi but also a close friend to many Kharkiv photographers including Anatoliy Makiyenko.

Anatoly Makienko, Untitled from Autumn series, 1987-1989, gelatin silver print, hand-coloured. mage courtesy of the artist.

Evgeniy Pavlov, “Farewell Summer!”, 1984, collage, gelatin-silver print. MOKSOP’s collection.

Just like Sliussarev, starting with 1987, Makiyenko gets interested in unremarkable and banal landscapes, specifically in the ones of the KhTZ district, where the author used to live. Closing the traditional gap between objective, realistic and “artistic” photography, he documents the things that generally aren’t seen as worth of attention: puddles of water and fragments of the uniformized blocks of flats reflected in them, laundry hung out to dry right in the yard, concrete fences and lines of tilted posts, sticking out from patches of thin grass and weeds. The eye of the author turns undistinguished objects of Kharkiv, which is famous for its greyness, and Soviet mundanity in general into lyrical characters that are capable of transmitting emotions and containing the traces of memory within themselves.

Anatoly Makienko, Untitled from Autumn around my House series, 1987, gelatin silver print. Image courtesy of the artist.

The two series the author creates in 1987, the melancholic Autumn around my House and Posts, a drier and more inventory one, are about subjective documentation of the landscapes of public-housing estates. In them, the author eliminates any radical transformation of the image, just as well as people’s presence or any kind of “important” event. The basis of subjectivity switches from manipulation with the photo material at the lab stage to playing with the components of the shooting process: the choice of an object, its framing, angle and depth.

Anatoliy Makienko, Untitled from Posts series, 1987, gelatin silver print. Image courtesy of the artist.

This choice becomes the crucial moment in the third period, which coincides with the author’s mastering of digital photography. Besides the withdrawal from analogue technology, curiosity and experiment with the principle of seriality become critical here. Instead of structuring the photographs according to their topics or narrative characteristics, Anatoliy Makiyenko meticulously sorts them into compositional series. Seriality here is expressed not in gradual unfolding, but in an attempt to organise occasional shots of the fragmented world into maybe not semantic, but at least a compositional unity. Before that, the author used to direct his affinity for organizing the world into separate parts — a principle the photographers used to call him “Sliussarev-like” for. But now all the heterogeneity and disorderliness of reality becomes an object of the therapeutic longing of the photographer for finding and establishing correspondences.

Despite emphasised discontinuity and accidentality of these shots, they allow accurately contextualizing scenes familiar to a Kharkiv citizen, like bright banner ads against shabby walls, wide backs of people in the crowd, dirt mixed with melted snow, handrails in trams and metro and loose power transmission lines. When collecting these insignificant, unimportant fragments of life and documents his own absurd mundanity, which hasn’t changed its character with the collapse of the utopian regime of social justice and the establishment of the utopian regime of consumer happiness, the author seems more mesmerised than critical.

Anatoliy Makineko, Order 1, 2000, c-print. Image courtesy of the artist.

In the course of his creative work, Anatoliy Makiyenko has often changed interests and approaches to photography, adapting them to the general changes in visual culture. What stays unchanged is the local material the photographer works with — at first, it is Soviet Kharkiv, and then Kharkiv of the beginning of Ukrainian independence, as well as the need to reconsider the fundamental relationship of photography and painting, the notion of “artistic photography”, subjectivity, landscape and seriality.

  1. http://www.magazine56.com.ua/images/2013/02/5.6-Kharkiv.comp_.pdf; see also Igor Manko, Roberto Muffoletto, Rui Cepeda, Kharkiv School of Photography. From Soviet Censorship to New Aesthetics, 2015, http://vasa-project.com/gallery/ukraine-e-cat/E-CATLinked.pdf.
  2. Екатерина Деготь [Ekaterina Degot], “Харьковская фотография. Производство свободного времени”, 6., n° 7, May 2012, 4.
  3. Tatiana Pavlova, “Anatoly Makiyenko”, in Mesiac fotografie, Brаtislava, FOTOFO, 2001, 91, and also Тетяна Павлова [Tetiana Pavlova], “Харківська фотографія”, Fine Art, n° 1, 2009, 18.
  4. Evgeniy Pavlov in Jan Sunderland, “Ocena Nadeslanych zdjec”, Fotografia, n° 1, 1973 ; Анатолій Макієнко в Jan Sunderland, “Foto ocena”, Fotografia, 1975, n° 7.
  5. Jury Rupin in Československá Fotografie, n° 4, 1974; Oleksandr Suprun in Československá Fotografie, n° 4, 1984, and Československá Fotografie, n° 3, 1988.
  6. Oleksandr Suprun in Fotografien° 1, 1980.
  7. See  Oleksandr Suprun and Brois Mikhailov in Михаил Алекссев [Mikhail Alekseev], “Украинское кольцо”, Советское фото, n° 5, 1979, 13-17.
  8. “Своей верностью правде жизни, своим оптимистическим видением мира, своей страстной партийностью сильно советское реалистическое искусство.” in Unknown author, “Быть верным правде жизни”,Советское фото, n° 5, May 1965, 1.
  9. From the conversation with Evgeniy Pavlov, April 26, 2018.
  10. Jan Sunderland, «Foto ocena», Fotografia, n° 7, 1975, 222.
  11. Александр Раппапорт [Aleksandr Rappaport], “Время и предмет. Фотографии А. Слюсарева”, Советское фото, n° 7, 1987, 24.

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