Kino: The lost chronicles
A new book of photographs reveals previously unseen images of Russia’s iconic rock band.
Published: June 27, 2012 (Issue # 1715)
Vassilieva-Hull’s photo of Tsoi at the Leningrad Rock Club in 1985.
As St. Petersburg — and the world of rock — marked what would have been the 50th birthday of Viktor Tsoi, frontman of the legendary rock band Kino, last Thursday, photographer Natasha Vassilieva-Hull presented her new book, “Kinokhroniki iz Podpolya” (“Kinochronicles from the Underground.”)
Among recent events dedicated to the musician, who was killed in a car crash in 1990 at the age of 28, the release of Vassilieva-Hull’s new book — her third — stands out, firstly because this is the biggest collection of Kino photos that has ever been published. Secondly, it is the first time a Russian publishing house, Eksmo, has agreed to collaborate with a designer from the U.K., which Vassilieva-Hull called “a psychological breakthrough for the Russian market.”
In an hour-long light-hearted presentation in the Bukvoyed bookstore on Nevsky Prospekt, Vassilieva-Hull answered questions and told the audience about her life now and back in the 1980s, her first meeting and further meetings with Tsoi, and the influence it had on her life and career.
The photos include ones taken at house parties and at rehearsals.
Vassilieva-Hull first met Tsoi in 1983 at a mutual friend’s birthday party. She photographed him for the first time soon afterwards, and they became good friends.
A teen idol and heralded as the number one rock star in the late Soviet Union, Tsoi started his band Kino in 1982. According to legend, Boris Grebenshchikov, frontman of Akvarium, then Russia’s most popular rock band, saw Tsoi singing on a train and went on to produce the latter’s new album. Gradually Kino became one of the most famous guitar-based bands. The real breakthrough for the group came in 1987, with the success of their album “Gruppa Krovi” (Blood Group) and two cult films, “Assa” (1987) and “Igla” (The Needle) (1988). Tsoi remained unchanged by fame, however, and according to music journalist and critic Artemy Troitsky, was always a “silent loner, an almost Byronic but modern day romantic soul and rock ’n’ roll drive, something like a cross between James Dean and Bruce Lee.”
Vassilieva-Hull’s story is as turbulent as the history of Russian rock music itself. She started her career in 1974, was the founder and first editor of underground magazine Rocksy and for many years worked for the Leningrad Rock Club, which, apart from the excitement, freedom and feeling of brotherhood it brought with it, also meant trips to the police station after every concert, no permanent job, no money (she was once paid with a jar of honey and a pair of white jeans) and pressure from the authorities. This clash with the Soviet regime prompted her to leave the country in 1994 when she was offered a job in the U.K. In the same year, at a concert by The Rolling Stones at Wembley arena, she became the first Russian photographer to shoot the group.
Kino captured by Vassilieva-Hull on her Zenit camera in February 1985. Tsoi (2nd r) was killed in 1990.
Although her life has changed since those days, it still revolves around photography, music and Russian rock music. Vassilieva-Hull said that the time she doesn’t spend with her granddaughter or on the beach is spent scanning old negatives and converting them into digital format. She still comes to Russia regularly to open exhibitions, launch new projects and meet old friends. She says that her current aim is to find sponsors who will be interested in funding her numerous projects.
In her new book, Vassilieva-Hull has compiled pictures of Kino taken with her Zenit camera during a period of nine years, from 1982 to 1990. The book is a treasure trove of unique photographs taken at rehearsals, backstage and at house parties. Kept from the public for more than 20 years, and coupled with Vassilieva-Hull’s informal, witty comments, the collection elicits an impression of intimacy, as though readers are looking through their own family album.
Tsoi died in 1990 when Russia was about to face great change and dramatic upheaval in its history with the collapse of the Soviet Union the following year. But legions of fans — including many born after Tsoi’s untimely death — still say, “Tsoi zhiv” (Tsoi lives), and the relevance of Kino songs to contemporary Russians cannot be overestimated. Street corners and underpasses all around the former Soviet Union still reverberate with the sound of young buskers playing much loved Kino hits. The song “Peremen,” (Changes), which ended the film “Assa” and brought one generation of Russians to the barricades in 1991, is a popular anthem at the protest marches that the country has seen since last December’s disputed State Duma elections.
“Kinokhroniki iz Podpolya” by Natasha Vassilieva-Hull (118 pages) is out now, published by Eksmo and available at local bookstores for about 550 rubles ($16.50).