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Unforeseen Past [16 second art]

Touching Photographs

The touch is invisible and thus unforeseen. We remember to retouch and forget the touch.

In my project each moving image is a recorded act of touching a family picture. Touch is something that resists photography. To photograph the touch is an embarrassing solitary act.

I use a primitive “multiburst” mode on my still digital camera that I discovered by chance. It doesn’t allow me to choreograph the image or control the timing or to freeze a single perfect moment. It commemorates the ephemeral and presents a minimum unit of 16 second movement without plot.

There is no revelation, no zoom, no comforting screen saver pan. The syncopated multiburst dwells on the glare, cracks and folds of the image, laying bare photographic errors, passing shadows, haunting memories. Occasionally my tired fingers cast a blood-tinged shadow from behind the photograph.

These will open in new windows:
one - two - three

My Family Album
(Three Projections: 16 seconds on the loop.)

A Girl in the Black Sea, 1960s. (Touched in 2007)

There is a crack on this photograph right where the wave breaks. It makes the picture particularly perishable. Why did the girl turn around? A sudden fear? Somebody’s voice? Did she witness something she wish she didn’t?


The Inner Yard Leningrad, 1989 (Touched in 2007)

When I returned to Leningrad in 1989 after nine-year absence and immigration I found my old house in ruins. Everything was in a state of sad disrepair: the neo-Baroque façade and the socialist inner yard with the “black entrance” that led to our communal apartment. Only when I pulled out my camera to take a picture I discovered graffiti “death” on the rusting pipe.

Later I found out that the local film studio was making a film here about the last days of Daniil Kharms.


The Ceiling, Leningrad, 1989 (Touched in 2007)

This is a ceiling of our room in the communal apartment in Leningrad. I used to stare at this ornament, a relic from another era, all my childhood. Even when the house was ruined, this fragment of the ceiling miraculously survived, immune to all the revolutions. A few bare wires hung out from the gaping hole where a lamp once was.


Unforeseen Past is uncanny and unpredictable like the future. It is not prepackaged for the immediate needs of the present.

Looking at the images of the past is disorienting because we are not always sure what was the figure and what was the background, what was personal and what was political. How could they have coexisted: superimposed or side by side? Can we glimpse some truth behind and before the image ? We see only the limits of our framing.

Seeing is not believing!
Picture is not worth the thousand words!

Framing the Family Album

When I immigrated from USSR, we were not allowed to carry family albums. Photographs with more than three people in the picture were considered ‘suspicious grouping.” Each picture we took with us thus became unique and unrepeatable. I began to rephotograph those pictures caught between two cultures--one of sparcity of objects and the other of excess, one of archival obsession and the other of obsolescence.

I still don’t have a proper family album but I constantly reframe photographs and play with foreign words that don’t translate into my mother tongue.

“Frame” comes from “from” which meant “forward,” “ahead” and advance; I don’t know how and why it evolved into the unfortunate direction of nostalgic introspection. Framing can be unstable and unforeseen.

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