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2017 Best Books: Rafał Milach


Books Rafał Milach: 2017 Best Books Rafał Milach Selects You wait ...., Passport, and Traces as the Best Books of 2017
Rafał Milach
Rafał Milach (b.1978) Visual artist, photographer, author of photobooks. Graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts in Katowice and ITF in Opava (Czech Republic). He currently lectures in the latter institution. For over 10 years, Rafał Milach has been working on transition issues in Russian-speaking countries and the CEE region. He has earned worldwide recognition for his books – The Winners and 7 Rooms. He received grants from the Ministry of Culture, Magnum Foundation and the European Cultural Foundation. He has won prestigious prizes, including the World Press Photo, Pictures of the Year International and is the finalist of 2018 Deutsche Börse Photography Prize. Co-founder of the Sputnik Photos collective. Selected individual exhibitions: C/O Berlin and Zachęta National Gallery of Art in Warsaw. He has had a number of group shows. His works are found in the collections of the Kiyosato Museum of Photographic Arts in Japan, Brandts in Odense (Denmark), CCA Ujazdowski Castle in Warsaw, ING Polish Art Foundation, Museum in Gliwice (Poland).

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You wait .... By Roman Pyatkovka. 
Red Zet, 2017.
 
You wait ....
Photographs by Roman Pyatkovka

As can be read on the cover of Roman Pyatkovka’s book You Wait, “the Soviet state shows great consideration for mother and child health.” The book, which the artist created as early as 1989, uses a Soviet guide for pregnant women entitled You Wait for a Baby. At the time, the Soviet empire was slowly starting to fall apart, but official propaganda still sought to maintain the high morale of the Soviet nation. Individuals, and their bodies, were subject to state control, which was meant to ensure their health and their ‘perfect image.’ The guide suggested mandatory therapies, warned against obesity, and instructed the users how to bandage the belly of a pregnant woman. In parallel, Roman Pyatkovka was working on his private archive, which he would not disclose until the collapse of the USSR. The expressive photographs of the female and male friends of the Ukrainian photographer from Kharkiv were created in pursuit of a bodily freedom and sexual independence, which was then prohibited by the Soviet regime. The backdrop for Pyatkovka’s scenes is provided by crude Soviet flats, and the portfolio, as a whole, becomes a manifesto of sexual liberation from the doctrines of the Soviet government. The intimate, quasi-erotic photographs modify, in a humorous way, the ‘operating manual’ of the female body, while its perversely altered title, which now reads You Wait, sounds like an announcement of the imminent end of the Soviet world.

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You wait .... By Roman Pyatkovka. Red Zet, 2017.

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Passport By Alexander Chekmenev. Dewi Lewis Publishing, 2017.
 
Passport
Photographs by Alexander Chekmenev

In 1994, three years after the collapse of the USSR, the Ukrainian authorities required Ukrainian citizens to have their invalid Soviet passports replaced with new ones. Alexander Chekmenev was one of the photographers who was sent to make — at the request of the city of Luhansk, eastern Ukraine — passport photographs of bedridden and elderly persons who could not leave their homes or afford a photographer. He had two cameras with him, using one to make the commissioned ID portraits, and the other to make a ‘backstage’ documentation of the improvised photographic sessions. The latter photographs nearly always featured the same elements: officials or family members who are holding a white background made of bed sheets, and in some cases, also the portrayed persons themselves. They are surrounded by beds, coffins, TV sets, patterned carpets, furniture, and other daily necessities. Not all of those portrayed are aware that they are being photographed. The fact that the Soviet Union ceased to exist is irrelevant to them because both themselves, and the space in which they live, are ‘relics’ of those times. The fact that their passports were being replaced will not change it. Chekmenev’s photographs are not only symbolic of a confrontation between the Soviet past and the transformations, but also of the brutal interference of the state within private spaces. Irrespective of the prevailing political system, the relationship between the authorities and individuals puts the latter in a disadvantaged position, and nearly always disempowers them.

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Passport By Alexander Chekmenev. Dewi Lewis Publishing, 2017.

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Traces By Weronika Gesicka.
Jednostka & W. Gesicka, M. Sokalska, 2017.
 
Traces
Photographs by Weronika Gesicka
 
Most of us have probably long ago come to terms with the fact that photography has ceased to be a proof of existence. Post-truth, which has become an inherent part of the modern world, in particular, the world which relied on our faith in the photographic image, only deepens this impression. The way we read reality is often superficial and based on clichés. We tend to refrain from seeking the truth and verifying news, even that which raises our doubts. We find it convenient to accept a vision of reality that someone has prepared for us. Therefore, rather than treating Weronika Gęsicka’s Traces as a study of the medium of photography, I see it as an attempt to confront questions about the clichés we create in our lives and our implication as a society in a facade-like reality. The discreet, but perplexing, disruptions of perception which make up Traces, are disguised by an innocent — at times intelligent, and at times perhaps too anecdotal — visual game with the viewer that has the potential to send a powerful warning signal about the present.

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Traces By Weronika Gesicka. Jednostka & W. Gesicka, M. Sokalska, 2017.

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