Russian Dreaming

A photographer that needs little introduction, Chilikov’s aptly titled ‘Photoprovocations’ capture the enduring spirit of the Russian people during the strict Brezhnev era of the USSR. His hugely significant work – associated with Soviet Pop Art and counter-culture – is celebrated by the Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow, in this illuminating display at Somerset House.

Chilikov began photographing the private lives of Soviet communities from the 1970s onwards. At a time where social life could consist of little more than a close group of family and friends, Chilikov reveals the endearing warmth of his subjects. The poverty is made clear from aged, worn possessions and run-down living spaces, but the effervescent humanity of these oppressed Russian communities lives on in his images.

Young women pose and laugh, happily distracted from the grim reality that is always underlying in his frames. Small children play on dirty streets, in dirty clothes, but are lost in the joy of activity. There is always a darker undertone, and – with images of hopelessly drunk escapists and intoxicated girls, at the hands of older men – at times this rises to the fore. Yet the over-riding theme is of the everlasting and irrepressible human spirit, in spite of the odds, which gives Chilikov’s images a timeless relevance.

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