Through these 26 striking images, taken in all corners of his nation, Russian photographer Misha Maslennikov shares the contours of his life as artist and theologian against a shifting backdrop of Soviet and Russian history.
Voice of Russia
Everything started with an ordinary pencil. A pencil that sooner or later takes a child’s fancy. What is he supposed to do with it? Well, grab it, play with it and perhaps draw something. I started drawing on books that belonged to my father, on windowsills, and on the plain wallpaper of our apartment.
My drawing teacher in school used to come up with ideas for various hobby groups: minting, wood and even linoleum engraving. Early in, many students were signing up, but by the end of the school year only one remained in the classroom. Later, when I was in the eighth grade, my teacher prepared my first still-life set that consisted of a pottery jar, a wax Antonovka apple, and a discoloured towel that once used to be blue. He handed me the classroom keys and left, without a word, shutting the door behind him.
Everything depictive in one way or another was important to me. I graduated from a junior college of artistic design and technology that specialised in architecture, was fortunate to get a job with the architectural bureau of a major design institute, and was planning to get into the Moscow Institute of Architecture.
Then I got called up for military service and that meant two more years of drawing, draughtsmanship and cartography in between firing practice and route marches. At nights I would work on my strokes, drawing gypsum head models that my friends brought to the barracks just for me.
I finished my service in the USSR Armed Forces and got a job at the artistic print shop of ‘Pravda’ publishers in Moscow. Retouching, assemblage, scanning, and colour separation of museum pieces for printing… But all that was routine. I desperately wanted to draw. Covered in oil, reeking of dissolvent and turpentine but still happy, coming back from plein-air outings, I was still searching and thinking about what to apply myself to next. What was it that I knowingly wanted to devote my life to?
Everything happens for a reason. The fall of the USSR, its eventual disintegration, new relations and prospects in the new conditions — the time was not devoid of illusions but held out a promise of prosperity.
First computers appeared in the country, then graphic stations arrived along with smart software and image editing. Painting, design, composition, fonts, calligraphy, everything I learned in the workshops of top Moscow painters, added to my experience in printing, brought me to graphic design. For a long time I worked in design offices, then as a freelancer, making good money. And slowly losing the meaning of it all…
A year later I received the blessing to enter Saint Tikhon’s Orthodox University, I got accepted by the divinity school. I quit my job in advertising and graphic design. Apart from history and theology I was particularly drawn to iconography: mosaic, icon painting and fresco painting.
Works by Russian theologians — Yevgeny Trubetskoy’s Theology in Colours, priest Pavel Florensky’s Iconostasis and Reverse Perspective and archpriest Sergius Bulgakov’s Church Ritual as a Synthesis of the Arts filled my vision with new feelings. The Byzantine School and the Russian ‘Northern painting’ tradition — that was what changed my perception.
And yet I did go back to working with image. As I turned forty an entry level camera landed in my lap. By then, numerous missionary journeys and pilgrim expeditions had filled me with visual experiences. And I started taking pictures. Yet again life was changing its shape and regained a meaning — inspiring artistic exploration and observation…
Everything I put into my photography is a story of my life. For me photography is a story of my experience in fine arts, of the people I meet and of the country I live in… And if I have the strength and, suddenly, a bit of luck, — perhaps of something bigger.
Against a shifting backdrop of Soviet and Russian history, Russian photographer Misha Maslennikov shares the contours of his life as artist and theologian through striking black and white images, taken in all corners of his nation.