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Towards Critical Realism: Marginality in Russian, Ukrainian, and Belarusian Photography (1980s–1990s)

  • Author / Creator
    Panenko, Svitlana
  • This thesis explores the unofficial photography of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus in the 1980s and 1990s: an art form that is barely studied in academia and therefore remains almost completely unknown to the general public. The dissertation offers a novel perspective of research within Eastern European art, as it reflects on the photographic practices in the context of a transitional period in these former Soviet republics: the era of stagnation during the early 1980s, the Perestroika of 1986, the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, and the decade that followed it. Photographs which best represent the characteristics of these art movements during such a pivotal time in history for these three countries were selected and different information was collected directly from photographers and art institutions, analysed and presented in my manuscript. The formal analysis of the selected photographs uncovered the evolution of certain socio-cultural and politico-economic aspects in Russian, Ukrainian, and Belarusian societies and at the same time the impact of this evolution on photographic art itself. This study proceeds along four axes. First, it examines photographic truth in the selected images and reveals that it is defined by the authenticity of the authorial approach, the abolishment of socialist ideology, and a critical vision of reality. Secondly, it scrutinizes the notion of critical realism and its divergence from socialist realism (officially sanctioned theory and method of artistic expression, which prevailed in the Soviet Union between the 1930s and late 1980s). Thirdly, it explores various unorthodox practices the photographers used, such as work with photographic 'margins', the documentation of ‘subaltern’ characters, and the use of 'minor' language of photography. Finally, this work shows how Russian, Ukrainian, and Belarusian photography under study offers a critical view of everyday life in the region. Unlike the sanctioned photography of the 1980s and the commercial photography of the 1990s, the photography studied reveals the unspoken truth about the everyday and its heroes who appear far from the role models suggested by socialist realist and capitalist methods. The work presented in this thesis also aims at laying a solid foundation for further research concerning the evolution of photography in post-Soviet countries.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Spring 2018
  • Type of Item
    Thesis
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
    https://doi.org/10.7939/R3610W73D
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.