Rus Eng

Vicki Goldberg is a writer on photography and author of the Aperture book Light Matters

During the summer of 2013 the Glaz (Eye) Gallery in Moscow had an exhibition of work by Nikolai Kulebyakin, another photographer widely known internationally. There were arresting, sometimes counterintuitive, even inexplicable color photographs of the outdoors, made with exposures as long as an entire night and into the day with unpredictable results. Color shifted and light misbehaved as the world turned and the lens lingered.

A larger selection of black- and- white prints offered a dazzlingly, endlessly complex set of still lifes of overlapping glass sheets and objects, some of them broken, plus mirrors, layer upon layer, with light improbably sifting through or ricocheting off unlikely surfaces. These images were tantalizing puzzles with no reasonable solutions – what was in front of what and what behind? What was seen through glass? What was reflected, and what was not? Both series were about photography, seeing, perception, and the limits of all three.

Kulebyakin too has jousted with history, even personal history, on occasion. A series called “Reproduction of Archive” consists of snapshots of children, family groups, a man with a dog, and so on, in diptychs with negative and positive on adjacent halves. The series comments on photography again and the retrieval of family history, the creation and reinforcement of memory through reprinted negatives, a slippery matter: does anyone remember the dog’s name after all these years? Can anyone identify the child in that damaged photograph?