Brightness” 2009-2014

At the heart of the current conflict between Russia and Ukraine is a question of national identity. But, are the differences between the two nations as vast and ethnically charged as they have been presented in the media? Younger generations on both sides of the border have been searching for ways to navigate the ideological and social vacuum left by the violent dissolution of Soviet dogma, their experiences mirroring one another. The photographs in this project were made in Russia and Ukraine between 2009-2014 and meditate on the formation of post-Soviet identity as played out in the individual lives of their subjects. Brightnessdraws on the cultural meaning of the Russian word “яркость,” which connotes beauty, light, and a desire to be remembered. A stance to be cultivated and displayed, it has an extensive stylistic genealogy that dates back to the gilded surfaces and visual opulence of Orthodoxy and Tsarist rule. Central to this series is its post-Soviet manifestation, characterized by a distinct brand of affectation, depravity, garishness, and, more recently, anxiety and tension.

The protagonists presented in these images are an orphan generation of Russians and Ukrainians, who came of age in an ideological void, having disowned their past, but lacking means for orientation in the present. Their constructed worlds of fashion, ornament, and spectacle are erected as defense against historic dislocation and atonement for frustrated expectations and unfulfilled fantasies. The subjects of these photographs are seeking to define who they are and what it means to be a Ukrainian, or a Russian, in relation to their collective past and an increasingly unclear future. Photographed in private and public spaces – glitzy malls of tomorrow and the Khrushchev apartments of yesterday – they self-fashion and invent roles, collectively and individually forging new identities. Whether these will gravitate to the promise of a European future or the parochialism of a neo-Russian empire will shape the nature of this emerging subjectivity and lay the groundwork of a new history.