Boris Mikhaïlov


Boris Mikhaïlov


For the first time, the Pinault Collection is exhibiting an emblematic work by Boris Mikhailov: the series At Dusk made up of 110 pho-tographs. It will be presented in the Bourse de Commerce Salon from 14 October 2022.
At Dusk is a series produced in Kharkiv, Boris Mikhailov’s hometown in Ukraine, a territory on the road to independence after the break-up of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.  Each print in this series, tinted with a cobalt blue wash,  is a personal account of events rather than a historical document.

“What’s important is to represent not an event but one’s relationship with the world. And yet I think that this relationship should concern everyone. Although a situation is represented through a personal viewpoint, it concerns social processes that are common, shared,” explains the artist. This twilight blue colour evokes the traumatic memories of his childhood, linked to the Second World War: “Blue for me is the color of the blockade, of hunger and war... I can still remember the bombings, the howling sirens and the searchlights in the wonderful, dark-blue sky.”
His often chilling panoramic photographs taken with a “horizon” camera create an unusual and unsettling visual language that highlights this new social reality. Dark and uncompromising street scenes show people queuing for food or huddling around a makeshift fire. The stifling atmosphere is reinforced by tightly framed images sometimes captured at hip height or from above, offering an atypical, distanced, and voyeuristic point of view on the inhabitants and landscapes of Kharkiv. 
As the title suggests, these images were captured at that moment of slippage when daylight gives way to darkness. Mikhailov sees it as an elegiac metaphor for Ukraine’s transition to independence after years of communist rule. At Dusk goes beyond the conventional tropes of documentary photography, creating a hybrid form between documentary and conceptual work.
This powerful series evokes the conflict and tragedy into which the Ukrainian people have been thrust since the beginning of the hostilities unleashed by the Russian government on 24 February 2022. 
The Maison Européenne de la Photographie is paying tribute to Boris Mikhailov by devoting its largest retrospective to him from 7 September 2022 to 15 January 2023, with over 400 images exhibited, selected in close collaboration with the photographer.

“It’s not important how you show something. It’s important to show it at the right time”.

This quote from the Ukrainian photographer born in Kharkiv, in one of the regions currently most affected by the war, takes on its full meaning here. Taken from a body of work entitled Luriki (1971–85), these brightly coloured photographs contrast with the muted, blue-toned images of the At Dusk series (1993). Entirely hand-coloured, these images combine portraits found in family albums with those made by the artist. Here, the coloured world is fake, representing the way in which the Soviet regime tried to embellish the image of people’s everyday lives through propaganda. These flashy colours are not a symbol of better days but of pure artifice, a deceptive decorum implemented by the Soviet Union. The other images from this series are currently on show at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie on the occasion of the major retrospective devoted to the photographer until 15 January 2023, Boris Mikhaïlov: Journal ukrainien.


Artist biography

Born in 1938 in Kharkiv, a large industrial city in Ukraine, Boris Mikhailov lives and works between Ukraine and Germany. 
Considered one of the most important photographers in Eastern Europe, he has a significant impact on both conceptual art and documentary photography. After giving up his engineering career, Mikhailov began taking photographs in 1965. 
In 1971, Boris Mikhailov was one of eight photographers who founded the Vremya group, a collective that gave rise to the Kharkiv School of Photography. Its members formally founded a dissident movement which emerged in the 1960s and was particularly resistant to the aesthetics and ideology of socialist realism. Boris Mikhailov became the leader of this group and his work was quickly censored for being subversive. The group’s style was characterised by the superimposition of images or the use of colourisation. Vremya disbanded at the end of the 1980s.
Boris Mikhailov’s works engage with social issues, poetically capturing the sad realities overshadowed by the rapid economic growth of the former communist bloc. The occupants of a post-Soviet world left in perdition are often depicted in his photographs. Art historian Urs Stahel describes the photographic series At Dusk (1993), On the Ground (1991), and Case History (1997–98) as a “requiem in three parts on the decay of social order.” His series go beyond the conventional tropes of documentary photography, occupying a hybrid position between document, diary, and conceptual work.