Heroes of their time

Heroes of their time

A new exhibition at Loft Project Etagi takes visitors back to the chaotic days of the 1990s.

Published: November 21, 2012 (Issue # 1736)


Anastasia Volochkova in 1987.

A photo of a sulky-looking pre-teen Ksenia Sobchak dressed in a party frock pictured with her father hangs a short distance from an image of Kino frontman Viktor Tsoi walking a dog in front of a backdrop of high-rise apartment buildings, while another snapshot captured in 1991 portrays a youthful Vladimir Putin. These are among the familiar faces on show at Loft Project Etagi in a new exhibit titled “Icons of the ’90s.”

The title is not without irony. The icons in question are not holy men, but celebrities captured on film by leading Moscow and St. Petersburg photographers, who subsequently published their snapshots in the tabloid newspapers and glossy magazines that were just emerging at the time.

In total, more than 300 portraits of high-profile figures are on show, ranging from Russia’s first president Boris Yeltsin and former Yukos tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky to pop diva Alla Pugacheva and representatives of underground culture such as Viktor Tsoi, artist Sergei Kuryokhin and Akvarium frontman Boris Grebenshchikov.

According to the organizers of the exhibition, which they say aims to vividly and accurately reflect the atmosphere of the epoch, the extraordinary diversity of its stars is a distinctive feature of the ’90s.

“Icons of the ’60s were, so to say, almost canonical: They were all positive characters such as cosmonauts or actors who were constantly on TV. But in the ’90s, villains also appeared,” said Natalya Ponomareva, the exhibition’s curator.

“It is difficult to determine exactly what kind of period it was. You could say it was an abscess that finally burst. Others insist that it was an oil gusher that erupted from the bowels of the Earth. In any case, the ’90s were like a fountain that brought to the surface both good things and bad. Some of them have gone away, others have stayed with us,” she added.


Singer Vyacheslav Butusov (1989).

The decade known in Russian as the likhiye devyanostye (the wild ’90s) was a turbulent time following the collapse of the Soviet Union that saw the arrival of many aspects of life previously unseen in Russia, such as TV advertisements and tabloid journalism, talk shows and music videos, and New Russians dressed in crimson jackets, as well as a wide array of new political figures. All were signs of these heady, troubled times that are revealed by the project from an apolitical point of view.

A significant part of “Icons of the ’90s” is devoted to figureheads from the world of the Russian underground. The photographers responsible for chronicling this particularly fascinating aspect of the period (Alexander Zabrin, Andrei “Willy” Usov, Sergei Borisov and Dmitry Konradt) were like-minded people and friends of the alternative celebrities that they captured on film. Their photos, often taken casually during informal gatherings, reflect the real spirit of the time.

The photos on show also demonstrate the changes that took place in photojournalism as a result of the emergence of a free press in Russia: They are far less inhibited and more stylistically diverse than standard news photography in the Soviet Union.

The exhibition is a continuation of a previous project, “Icons of the 1960-’80s,” which opened in Moscow in 2010 at the Lumiere Brothers Photography Center before coming to St. Petersburg’s own State Russian Museum.

“Icons of the 90s” was shown in Moscow last year, and is due to travel to Krasnoyarsk after its run in St. Petersburg.

“Icons of the ’90s” runs through Dec. 16 at Loft Project Etagi, 74 Ligovsky Prospekt. Tel. 458 5005. M: Ligovsky Prospekt. www.loftprojectetagi.ru

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