A few words about contemporary Uzbek photography. Part I

Alex Ulko will introduce readers of NewEurasia to modern photography from Uzbekistan in a new series of articles

On 25 April I gave a talk on contemporary Uzbek photography in front of the most challenging audience imaginable, a few dozens of modern Uzbek photographers who gathered in the House of Photography in Tashkent courtesy of the Neformat Photo Club. The formal pretext for the presentation was a talk about the 50th Conference of the Society for Photographic Education which took place in Chicago’s Palmer Hilton House on 7-10 April 2013.


A plenary session at the 50th Conference of the Society for Photographic Education

However, the more important purpose for the meeting was to facilitate a discussion of the post-Soviet and post-colonial narratives in modern Uzbek photography. I actually wanted to challenge the complacent self-perception of some photographers by bringing in the notion of ‘self-inflicted Orientalism’ as one of the key approaches to photography that I find evident in the country.

The question I invited the audience to reflect on was why many photographers, firmly established in their urban (and often hi-tech) context, prefer to shoot on such ‘exotic’ locations as mountainous villages, bazaars, traditional events and crafts or in dilapidated houses, abandoned factories and ghost towns. My hypothesis was that the Soviet nationality construction campaign developed a certain Orientalist view of the local art and of photography, in particular with its heavy emphasis on the representation of ‘national’ (ethnic) themes which was inherited by some modern photographers.

Of course, most of the audience clearly did not belong to the category of ‘tourist’ photographers who shoot exotic locations as if thinking about selling their pics to glossy travel brochures. And yet I felt it was important to stimulate the discussion of the Central Asian and Soviet roots of the essentialist and Orientalist flavour discernible in the works of many local artists. Let me illustrate these words with the following photos.

This beautiful composition by Stvetlana Astakhova reveals a certain fascination with the mysterious, enigmatic East and its juicy textures of the old wood and adobe houses:


Pavel Kravets’s poetic photo seems to have been taken in a quiet remote village frozen in time, and yet it was made in the very centre of modern Tashkent:


Andrei Kudryashov is interested in the more brutal side of the traditional Eid Mubarak (Kurban bayram) feast, when millions of animals are slaughtered across the Muslim world without being stunned:


Living in exotic Bukahra, Anzor Bukharsky finds his expressive subjects in the areas populated by local Roma (known as ‘luli’), apparently involved in cockfighting:


Almost everyone did ‘kupkari’, a traditional nomadic horseback game, but Hamdam Otajonov has no issues with showing its more modern, less ‘pure Eastern’ sides:


In my next posts I would like to discuss different aspects of the development of modern Uzbek photography.

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