Critics’ Picks

Nikolay Bakharev, Relationship #48, 1991-94, gelatin silver print, 11 3/4 x 11 3/4".

New York

Nikolay Bakharev

Julie Saul Gallery
535 West 22nd StreetSixth Floor
June 11–August 21

“The People of Town N,” the title of Nikolay Bakharev’s second solo exhibition at this gallery, refers to Novokuznetsk, the artist’s hometown in southwestern Siberia, where he’s managed to capture an assortment of its denizens in various stages of unguardedness or vulnerability for more than thirty years.

Novokuznetsk is a mill city—steel, iron—and the hardness of its environs can be read on the faces and bodies of Bakharev’s subjects. Though most of the pictures were taken after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Bakharev’s people seem, at least from the perspective of Western eyes, to be trapped in the amber of impoverished, Communist-era aesthetics—outdoors or in their cramped apartments, in seventies hair styles and secondhand polyester swimsuits, with a few black market–looking American records or magazines lying about.

But the joy of Bakharev’s work is in his depictions of eroticism and camaraderie. See friends and strangers lying about in the woods in (Relationship #8, 1986-90) or smiling and getting drunk together in (Relationship #105, 2001), or various men and women (mostly women) posing in next to nothing or nude, exultant in their bodies in these moments of sweet, seditionary exhibitionism (it was forbidden to show or even take pictures of naked bodies during Russia’s Soviet years). Like so many documentary photographs, Bakharev’s work is unyielding in its moles-and-all frankness, but his touch is unequivocally tender—a chronicler of a great and immersive love among so many ruins.