Romantic Realism in Photography 2022.09.08 - 2022.10.29
Born in 1965 in Byelorussia, USSR, Valery Katsuba often bases his photographs on the rich creative expressions of classic Western art history while paying homage to the great literary tradition of Russia. The artworks in this exhibition, 'Romantic Realism in Photography', do not only present solemn and grand sets and human bodies with sublime qualities as described by the great philosopher Kant; but the artist's lens taps into the softness, warmth, fragility, or rather, the soul, that belongs to human beings. As the writer Andrew Solomon, exclaims, "Valery Katsuba is a master of aesthetics, and he describes the human body with the precision and elegance of Praxiteles; but within each of those beautiful bodies, he finds a beating heart."
Take a glance at the series Air Flight. Sky, with its blue sky as a curtain and its minimalist composition highlighting the graceful and powerful curves of aerial bodies in the midst of difficult gymnastic movements; the beautiful bodies in the photographs such as David & David and Gymnast and Victoria Samothrace, for example, step into the scenes from the extensive galleries and museums of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, with the glimpse of David's head and the wings of Samothrace's Victory sculpture unfurling, the flesh of mortal beings makes the same gestures as heroes or gods. They and the viewer in front of them can contemplate thousand years and meet the ancients.
Katsuba's creative passion for the human body stems from the hundreds of thousands of images of Soviet-era sportsmen and women that he discovered during his work at the Central State Archive of Film, Photo, and Phonographic Documents of St Petersburg. The artist argues that the Soviets had a unique preference for images of the human body that combined perfection, discipline, control, and great skill, which were fully intertwined with Soviet ideology and body politic decisions. At the same time, the ultimate quest for the sublime and the athletic undoubtedly comes from a rather Russian aesthetic world. Still, the poetry of the 'emotional' mixed with the magnificent is common to all peoples. "Human emotion is at the heart of our existence." says the artist.
As such, Katsuba captures the subtle dynamics of the human body in those daily scenarios. As if in homage to the great Russian literary tradition, Katsuba creates images that appear to be narratives, shifting the setting to natural landscapes, the land, the countryside or simply places covered in snow. The scene in Jumping from a rope on the River Oredezh, for example, is poetic in its folkloric romance, with young people playing on the shores of a lake in the woods, like small, sad or witty gods in an idyllic pastoral. The association of Russian aesthetics with Western visual culture, Romanticism and Realism in Katsuba's work is particularly evident in these works.
The artist's particular preference for the relationship between the every-day environment and the human body is evident in both the opulent, historic plazas, or in which the fitted bodies are housed and the intimate scenes in which him and his friends are living. “I have always been interested by the relative constancy of landscapes- whether natural or architectural and the human fates, faces and historical eras that go through them.” The artist manifests, "I ask my heroes to stop, and they stop in front of the camera as if in the infinity of time and space, exposing their greatness, beauty and fragility. That is how I wish to remember them and to talk about them. I photograph them like this, assuming that an artistic photograph will capture the elusiveness and the emotions it aroused in me. At least, I do everything I can to preserve them.”