Richard Davies takes his inspiration from St Petersburg photographer William Carrick’s (1827-1878) Russian Types, an intimate look at everyday people and scenes of Russian life. In the present exhibition, Davies explores this time-honoured genre of photographs from the field by examining life in the unforgiving environment of the Russian north.
The exhibition draws on Davies’ new publication, Russian Types and Scenes, which is a companion volume to his 2011 Wooden Churches: Travelling in the Russian North. Texts by the Moscow architectural historian Alexander Mozhaev, along with the insights of writers, artists and poets, accompany Davies’ photographs in Russian Types and Scenes.
‘Photographing the churches was exciting and exhilarating but it was also frustrating. My camera was attached to a tripod. I faithfully gave my attention to the tripod and its camera, adjusting the position, the level, the height, the framing, the focus, the shutter speed and the aperture while brushing away snow, rain and mosquitoes from the lens. I knew that if I was to move away for a moment the sun would burst through the clouds; a dog, a cow, a horse or a wonderfully exotic Russian would hove into frame. Meanwhile all around me extraordinary everyday things were happening…’
-Richard Davies, Russian Types and Scenes, Preface
Davies gives us glimpses of these extraordinary things, such as the delightful skirt made of sweet papers (Lyubov Borisovna, Sweet Paper Skirt and Tiara, Lyadiny, Kargopol district, Archangel region, March 2006). Created and modelled by Lyubov Borisovna, we see a young woman in simple, yet festive-looking clothing; the humble material of her skirt does not detract from the overall cheery effects. The skirt is reminiscent of an andarak, a traditional skirt, sometimes made of cotton with brightly coloured prints. Andaraks were often worn with coarse, white linen shirts, and Borisovna has chosen a white shirt to wear with her creation. Seeing the skirt on display brings home the simplicity and cleverness of the design. In the photograph, Borisovna stands almost to attention and looks slightly over the viewer’s left shoulder, while her shy smile and tucked in chin draw the viewer in. Among Carrick’s Russian Types, Davies’ general source of inspiration, an interesting contrast for consideration is Carrick’s photograph of a young woman (A Russian Beauty, 1870s), who gazes over the viewer’s right shoulder and stands hand on hip. Her expression is more relaxed than Borisovna’s, her tilted-up chin and smile confident. Davies’ shot is full-length, whereas Carrick’s is three-quarters: in both, however, the focus is on the woman and her femininity.
Other highlights of the exhibition include Church of St John the Evangelist (1687), (Ishna, Veliki Rostov, Yaroslavl region, December 2010). It depicts a wintery scene, where sky and land seem almost as one, and a lonely, bent figure can be seen trudging along towards the distant church, which rises up darkly against the snow. Also Father Peter, Lada and Church of St George (1493) (Yuksovichi, Leningrad region, October 2012), which presents a zigzag composition of church, car and priest. A wooden fence neatly divides the church from the car and priest, who stands straight, hands resting at his side, his smile warm, as we saw with Borisovna. However, unlike Borisovna, Father Peter appears more at ease being photographed in his chosen identity, that of a man of the cloth.
By sharing his observations of ‘extraordinary everyday things’ in this exhibition, Davies reveals intriguing insights into what is often perceived by outsiders as a mysterious land and unknowable people.
Pushkin House 5a Bloomsbury Square London WC1A 2TA
On view 19 June – 27 September 2015
Opening times: Monday – Sunday 2.00 pm – 5.00 pm. By appointment only 18 July – 31 August.
For further information on Richard Davies and his work please check the website.