Rafal Milach's Best of 2017

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Alexander Chekmenev’s Passport, published by Dewi Lewis
Alexander Chekmenev was one of the photographers assigned by the city of Luhansk, eastern Ukraine to make passport photographs of bedridden and elderly persons who could not leave their homes or afford a photographer. It was 1994, three years after the collapse of Soviet Union. The typological portraits created by Chekmenev are not only a metaphor of transition, but they also show the brutal interference of the state within private space.
Roman Pyatkovka’s You Wait, published by Red Zet LLC
When Roman Pyatkovka created the dummy of his book You Wait back in 1989, the Soviet empire was slowly starting to fall apart – yet the official propaganda still sought to maintain the high morale of the Soviet nation. Individuals, and their bodies, were subject to state control. In parallel, Roman Pyatkovka was working on his private archive, which he would not reveal until the collapse of the USSR. Pyatkovka’s expressive nude scenes, shot inside crude Soviet flats become a manifesto of sexual liberation in defiance of the doctrines of the Soviet government. The intimate, quasi-erotic photographs modify, in a humorous way, the “operating manual” of the pregnant female body promoted by Soviet health care system.
Weronika Gęsicka’s Traces, published by Jednostka Gallery
Traces is an ironic comment on the clichés we create in our lives, and our implication as a society in creating a facade-like reality. The distortions of reality offered by the author are seductive and suffocating at the same time.
Yulia Krivich’s exhibition Daring and Youth at the TIFF Festival, Wrocław, Poland
“Daring & Youth is the name of a hooligan band I met a few years ago,” says Ukrainian photographer Yulia Krivich. “The young people in the photos are hoolies, ex-service volunteer soldiers, and political activists of the right-wing movement. At the same time, they belong to the globalised world of youth: they travel, party, fight for the rights of animals, and, like us all, create their image on the Internet. That clash of seemingly extremely different concepts has become the inspiration for my work.” Is it possible to visually comment on an on-going war in your own country without dramatising or romanticising the conflict? In the end you have to take the position. Yulia Krivich successfully balances at the edge of being both critical and fascinated with the formation of a new national identity.
Andrejs Srokins’ Palladium, published by Orbita, Riga
Strokins’ book is a trip juxtaposing the Soviet past with the world outside the Iron Curtain. The life of the Palladium cinema was short but intense; over a decade of activity, the movie theater hosted numerous cultural events as well screening American, Mexican and Cuban films. The building mysteriously burned in 1963 after screening the Russian Miracle documentary on the Russian revolution and civil war. The ambiguous and humorous scenes from the cinema, documented by an anonymous photographer and Palladium’s staff, brings us back to a surreal space of one of the biggest movie theatres in this part of Europe. The Latvian photographer Andrejs Strokins reorganised the archive into a photobook, blurring the border between fiction and reality.