Valera & Natasha Cherkashin

Mikhail Sidlin


Photography Game
The Early Works of Valery Cherkashin.

Mikhail Sidlin,
Professor of Moscow Rodchenko School of Photography

It is hard to believe that in the God forsaken year 1960-something in the totalitarian Soviet society could appear such photos. The people like that simply didn't exist, as well as the games and the pictures. I don't believe in it.

The only think that shakes my otherwise strong disbelieve in that impossibility is the fact, that I personally know the Cherkashin family very well and, looking at those old photos I can simply recognise their faces. On one of them Valera is a boy, playing with weighs. On the other one he is a provincial factory designer. This obvious identity of the artist and the model makes me say "I do believe!". I believe that it's not only a self portrait in front of me, but a true reflection of that time as well, though strikingly different from the one we are used to. Cherkashin never had practiced the reportage photography - it was impossible to publish such sots at the time, and his works didn't reflect the 'true Soviet reality'. He didn't belong to the 'photo amateurs' group - imagine discussing such works at the state supported photographers club! Neither did he take part in the 'artistic photography' movement. What we see in front of us in the 'outsider' photography.

The outsider photography is subjective and non-descriptive. It ignores the modern tools and technology, but the narrative itself became the centre of the artist's attention. We are talking about principally new kind of the narrative.

The young provincial innovator had no idea that the revolutionary artists such as Nobuyoshi Araki, Arnulf Rainer, Duane Michals or Robert Frank existed. If the 1960s-1970s in the Soviet Union was the period of freedom of information and international communication we could have suspect the cross influences and on that basis to engage into long discussions on the interplay of the Soviet and Western photography. But it was impossible behind the Iron curtain in the closed city of Kharkov. Some can suggest that the similarity of life conditions can give the similarity of artistic expressions. Do you see the link between the capital city of Tokyo and provincial God forgotten Kharkov? Or between life of Robert Frank and self-taught communal flat resident from the apartment block with no through-running water supply? The most progressive is always the most marginal. The new tendencies are rarely appreciated by the contemporaries - there are no recognised criteria yet to evaluate their work. In the 1960s-1970s Valera Cherkashin made an important discovery in the field of visual language - the unnoticed discovery. The time has come to recognise his achievement and to give his early works the merited place in the history of Soviet photography.

The series of Cherkashin are filled with irony and joyful atmosphere of game, engaging play with dressing up and mask swapping. Quite possibly for him the game was the only way to escape the reality of Soviet life and to get a feel for freedom. Who in the year 1960 could imagine that it would be his lifetime way of living?




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