Recasting Perspectives of the New East

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The inaugural New East Photo Prize seeks to broaden perceptions through the medium of photography, offering representations of the social, cultural and physical landscape which further international understanding of the region.
Although hugely diverse, the countries of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union are often conjoined in an outdated manner, undermining the rich culture and variety of creative output from these nations.
“The idea was to go beyond some of the still prevailing cliches of Eastern Europe,” says Calvert 22 Foundation’s creative director, Ekow Eshun. “The initial reason we conceived the prize was to celebrate the large amount of intensely exciting, yet under explored visual material that comes out of this territory, both in terms of talent and in terms of breadth of subject matter.”

Monument to the Atom, Voronezh, Russia
This year’s shortlist of 11 finalists collectively reside across half of the globe – from Chukotka, the most north-easterly point of Russia, to the warmer climes of Bulgaria – with work that reflects a range of approaches and subject matters, encompassing the use of video, portraiture and landscape photography.
Among them is Danila Tkachenko, one of BJP’s Ones to Watch of 2015.
The Moscow-based photographer continues his exploration of identity and utopia through his symbolic and politically charged images inspired by the Soviet Union’s socialist ideologies.
Lost Horizon explores the Space Race and the former republic’s quest to spread socialism beyond the boundaries of Earth and install the theory into space.
Bas relief on the Monument to the Conquerors of Space, Moscow, Russia
The series includes objects and symbols which present the Soviet Union’s pursuit of a cosmic future. Monuments of socio-realist heroes, a DNA strand, the Sputnik satellite, and the rocket which carried the first cosmonaut into space are displayed in 6×6 format, highlighting them with powerful searchlights in the dark.
“One of the starting points was ‘Gesamtkunstwerk Stalin’ by Boris Groys’, which contends that power begins to take the role of the Artist,” says Tkachenko. “I have always been very inspired by Russian avant-garde, in particular, Kazimir Malevich’s ‘Black Square’ that, in some measure, is the symbol of The October Revolution and the whole Soviet period.”
“For me, [the series] is an attempt to create the imagery of a social utopia, the ideal world and society. I think that today’s power in Russia follows in the steps of the Soviet experience, so my intention was to create a work which linked to this theme.”
Marx generator for high-energy physics experiments, Moscow Oblast, Russia
“Tkachenko re-memorialise’s the totemic symbols that date from the Soviet era,” explains Eshun. “He questions whether you can strip these symbols away from their physical context, asking where that leaves the object, whether they can be de-politicised, or whether the history and politics of the Soviet past are too deeply freighted in our imaginations.”
“By taking them out of their historical context where they are valorised, he recasts them as something beautifully mysterious.”  
Central computing center, Moscow, Russia
The winner of the Prize, which will see the awarded body of work published as a photo book produced by Calvert 22 Foundation, will be announced on Thursday 1 December.
In addition, a Special Prize, dedicated to unfinished documentary projects, will be awarded by New East Photo Prize partner Bird In Flight, an online magazine about photography and visual culture.
Danila Tkachenko’s work can be seen at the New East Photo Prize from 4 November – 18 December 2016. For more, go here.

Charlotte Harding

Charlotte Harding is a writer, creative consultant and editor of More This, a sustainable sourcebook for doing good, based in London. She has been writing for British Journal of Photography since 2014, and graduated in 2016 with an MA in Visual Anthropology at Goldsmiths, UoL. Her work is published on various arts and culture platforms, including AnOther, TOAST and Noon Magazine.