Friday, June 29, 2012

With Anton Akimov

When the Seeing With photography Collective traveled to Moscow, to teach and attened the Opening of "Sight Unseen", I met Anton Akimov, who guided me around the crowds at the Flacon Art Center that evening, and donated his time to drive our group here and there around Moscow. Anton's work is becoming well known in Russia now. Before studying photography, he was a lawyer in the Financial business. There were ethical issues which caused Anton to reconsider things. Its hard to imagine two more contrasting fields of interest, and his embracing photography was a considered choice, a choice of values and of what was  personally meaningful. So it was great news when he wrote me to say he'd be in New York for awhile.

Here Anton's priority was to submit a portfolio to the Magnum Photo Agency and he spent much time editing and ordering his images for maximum narrative impact.

He showed me his online work-- “Cavity”. You can view this HERE.  Anton's  uncanny spaces are displayed there in many series

Some show tunnels or gritty, generic corridors. A cold, often flat atmosphere permeates some. Doing self portraits at night in some of those places is my idea of an ordeal - after which I'd collapse on my bed grateful I'd gotten through that night in one piece. Anton said he usually works alone, because few people want to be about at night in such scary places assisting him. 

Yet he seeks this out. And in confronting his own discomfort, discoveries are made. Some in the series aren't so darkly conceived, and light abounds, though an unsettling light. Those are just perplexing visually. “What do you see?” he asks me. I'm aware of isolation. He has to tell me where to find his dark, and to my eyes, camouflaged shape in many, so inconspicuous he remains. many have an implied narrative, and speak not in any one language but universally. Anton has had a difficult, chaotic life in earlier years, so I can imagine he is here revisiting familiar and dangerous places from his past. But here he brings along something new- some new aspect of himself - his camera.

"I was scared a little"- he admitted. Maybe with these dark images its a way of re- enacting emotional situations. He's alone mostly, usually facing some wall. An atmosphere of danger is here, not apparent, but indirect. Several though are really beautiful, and I told him one reminded me of Steichen's Flatiron image.

Anton does childlike graffiti too, deliberately naive. All the graffiti I've seen is the same, a man and a boy, or either, holding a balloon. Two dots for eyes. Smiley face.Spray painted in areas that are aggressive. I guess as an act of benevolence or peaceful sweetness, to fly in the face of more powerful and hostile surroundings... If you spot a graffiti of a little boy holding a balloon near Washington Heights or Brighton Beach, Antons been there.

 I accompanied him on some walks- shoots here in New York. He scans about. Looking and looking more.Tall and hawk eyed. Satisfied with his shot, he doesn't linger, its a single shot deal.
 And I hear that familiar, deep voice...“Lets go!” And I find his arm and hold his elbow, and am guided away... tapping..."How do you say this in English? A curb". Many of Anton's transliterations are so charming I can't help but laugh with delight. Walking along one night I heard branches rustle and his friend Sergey yelped excitedly. I asked what happened, and Anton laughing, explained Sergey was jumping up, picking little "candies" clustered among the leaves of a nearby tree.

“Warm contrast with cold” he said capturing an Industrial cluster of tall turbines outside an elevator lobby, radiantly raked by slanting warm light from a lowering sun. His work is diffent from my own, assessing, searching and capturing, evaluating, fitting the visual forms of the world into his concepts.

Another of his series, was published in “Bolshoi Gorod” or “Big City” Magazine in Russia. See this series HERE. Many are simple, interiors of Moscow buildings. But the  clear simplicity has another layer - subtly complex. I think of Diane Arbus, but with out her people. I don't know what quality they posses, maybe retro, or flimsy, or cramped. Nooks and spacious light. Devoid of occupants they retain an emotional presence. But I'm uncomfortable viewing them, despite their veneer of domestic comfort, nearly all are disquieting, nowhere I'd ever call home. The columns are too thin, the windows too weird, the design awkward.

Visiting the Metropolitan Museum he headed quickly for the contemporary, as I tried to linger at the Roman mosaic floors and Greek bronzes. and I elaborated on De Chirico's unique  spaces, green skied and surreal, and maybe bored him with Leger. But I love Leger. Two things struck me as having changed since my last visit, well, three really. In just two years theres a huge increase in the number of people shooting pictures, I guess with smart phones, a nearly constant drone of clicks everywhere one turns. The second thing was how much darker the familiar galleries were, the paintings sometimes stayed in the realm of possibly seeing them, but, with alarming frequency, many vanished into blackness and hopeless shadow. Finally the lastaspect of our visit was the most subtle and the most upsetting. I just wasn't that interested in the paintings like I used to be.
Anton excitedly found the enormous Buddha mural, and we sat in the lofty and quiet hall, contemplating its forms and ideals. Noticing two circles near the bottom, symmetrical to the Buddha, I asked what what he saw inside them? " Flowers" he replied looking up from his notebook, and trail of Cyrillic script.
Later that night we had Dinner with Darius and Bill at their apartment here in New York. Darius told us about his frustration teaching College, his students updating their Facebook or, looking at Lady Gaga's shoes during Calculus class. It exasperates him, but he tries, to improve the world. One by one. "If I see trash in the street I pick it up". Then, ironically, he unknowingly, cluelessly, echoed our encounter earlier with the Buddha mural. "The Buddha, teaching before a group of followers said "Many are here, but just a very few understand, and held out a flower".

 We told Anton more about Mexico. But he had met,by chance, two acquaintances from Russia here in New York, and they wanted him to join them on a trip to Costa Rica.  He slumped on the couch. "What should we do Steve"  Anton sighed, weighing the possibilities of traveling to Guanajuato."Follow your instinct" I said,"its your truth and strength".

He traveled to Guanajuato with me, staying with Darius and myself in his home there, in the tower room, above the terraces and amid the wind chimes, and had a copy of the door keys to come and go as he liked.

Anton enjoyed Guanajuto, and his instinct, I believe did not fail him. His images of New York, Ohio and Mexico remain at this writing unknown because he uses film and scans his negatives. Darius asked about dust spots when he showed us some website images, but Anton replied that he liked the little dust marks.

Once unpacked back home I examined the thick pile of glossy images Anton left on my shelf, for me to keep as souvenirs. I saw some of the images which were online, and that he had manipulated some and desaturated or altered the color, to the image's benefit, I think. The prints, small, ordinary, run of the mill prints churned out by the millions, are more colorfully saturated and drain away their attachment with "ART with a capitol A".  But gain another quality, intimacy. His son Nikita. A tent atop a green hill. An expanse of blank wall with a waving hand poking thru a hole. One shows his lanky shadow cast on a low white wall. There is something so vexing.
I learned much more on another day, examining them very slowly under raking sunlight with a magnifying glass. Fresh imagery popped up from the familiar stack, I missed so much.
One of these is typical. I missed what was vital, intriguing, and the visual pun of it on first seeing this. I had thought I was looking at a man from the back opening a door to some gloomy building, but now, seen in better light, its seen as not a door at all, but maybe a large white appliance, and the building is, in fact, a steep hill rising from one side of a sinuous two way road. Its visually complicated because he's leaning and standing on top of some bridge like structure that is spanning over the road, yet the white door - appliance hes near, looks like its built into the side of the steep hill. The incongruity is strengthened by the thin frame- door frame -? causing more visual confusion.  Possibly the scene  of the steep hill and winding road is a large photo realistic mural on a wall filling nearly the whole frame, fooling the eye trompe 'leoi style. 
Even Darius who doesn't appreciate the images much, goes back again and again to them.

Anton told me he wants to return to Mexico in the fall, and now has some personal items stored in Darius' home on that ancient, narrow street in Guanajuato. If Anton's journey hadn't gone well, it would have troubled me because I urged him to go, relying on my own instinct that Guanajuato would click for him. I can't wait to see his photos.

No comments:

Post a Comment