It Is Not Present There
Tatyana Zamirovskaya - writer, journalist
After focusing at last upon one single point you see nothing there at first – just emptiness. Breath in, hold the breath, wait, keep the tense emptiness in focus, and all kind of magical objects will start to form, emerge, come out of it: trees, snails, someone’s flickering palms, morning street life, which passes-by busily and suddenly freezes beneath your gaze – eye to eye. Photographic poetry of Maxim Shumilin and Mikhail Leshchenko always contains a component of an incidence, unexpected meeting, coming face to face with some out-of-this-world, but nevertheless absolutely necessary and the only proper thing in the middle of the city, near tram rails, in a park; even if the image is impossible, even if you have arranged the meeting yourself – everything will happen not in the way you plan, completely accidentally, and probably you will have to sit on the ground and play yourself in a puppet theatre.
Photography is here not so much work with the space as with the time. To be more exact the space is the method and the time is the object (although unrecongnizabe). The magic of the moment is to convert time into a dot on the timeline, in which everything is happening: the scene is constructed from the accidentally encountered lines, and everything else is just a miracle, luck, magic, jolly guests from the nothingness. It is comfortable and pleasant to work as a stage manager of the obscurity, especially when it looks to you as if somebody else is the one, and you are just passing by and capturing the mood. A person standing near the door way at the right time, where also a right old-fashion chair with laced ornament on it back is properly emplaced, doesn’t’ stop being a person, although shaking off his biography and acquiring the quality – this is a Line person, Contour person, Capital letter person. A dog passing close to the assemblage point stops and looks into the eye of the lens. You breath in and see the forest, peering into you nose bridge, breath out – and the image vanishes, rustles, blacks the moment out with swish, rumble and someone’s steps. You breathe out and the same girl immediately looks back. You breathe out and she stops whispering to a tree. Shumilin and Leshchenko play hide-and-seek with the time - and you tenderly feel the most thin, fragile, sometimes intimate moment, printed on the heart of the scene, however you will never know when exactly it have taken place. Never and always - that is the impression that remains. Characters of those works stay in this persistent always - but in a given point in time, and this miracle of synchronicity fascinates us.
Employing absolutely similar approach to the time-space they produce very different results. Maxim Shumilin prefers poetic associations; not really the clarity and stability of haiku, but rather the deep-water metaphorical nature of the Spanish poetry. Mikhail Leshenko is looking at people as if crystalizaing, distilling out of them a pure emotion, feeling, mood. Shumilin’s characters are the puppets playing the role of men. Leshchenko’ characters are people, who pretend to play puppets with themselves. They also have a common intention of capturing the moment of transformation when a puppet becomes a person-the-viewer; when a person is transformed into a deformed angle, part the interior, letter of the alphabet: when trees turn first into humans (and you, no matter how transparent is the landscape, do not even think that there is no living creatures and it is an astonishing feeling), then into puppets (you understand: trees are played with) and finally reveal pure sense and emotion, nothing else. The memory doesn't keep the image but this final emotion.
Those photo-texts are less associated with the art of movie (they are not narrative), than with painting - it is impossible to tell where and when it happens, but it is very clear what exactly is going on, and which is equally important - what happens to you. The photographers do not register facts, they make up, draw and paint - draw with occasional angles, buildings, trees, fastidious fractures of people and landscapes. Shoulders, backs, hands, wrists, profiles are the lines. Postures, looks, embraces are the colors. Trees and puppets are antropomorphic and humane, people themselves and their gestures are fugitive and thin as the wind or rustling of trees.
Shumilin and Leshchenko take pictures of transformations, strange magic sessions, and there are also trees and things before and after the moment, when they become somebody or something else. The main riddle of their photos is their almost Zen incommensurability – if you come to the same place, where the picture was taken, you will see that it is not there.
Sergey Shabohin - artist, journalist
The new Garden photo series by Maxim Shumilin and Mikhail Leshchenko is the next logical step of the ongoing esthetic search of the photographers. The permanent square of a monochrome scene, illusive theatricality supported by emotional narrativeness and lightness of sensual images, creates the easy-to-recognize depictive script of the authors. Their photos form a persistent contrast to the surrounding teсhnogenic utopian world and in a certain sense fall out of it. A film camera used by Maxim Shumilin and Mikhail Leshchenko is far from being the most reasonable choice of a modern photographer. However application of classic techniques is a kind of trend in the modern photo art. It is interesting that those methods, which were so popular and widespread once, have recently become a unique and impressive alternative to the contemporary digital media. Representing conflict with today’s reality it is actually the clue to understanding of their art. Looking at the pieces from the Garden series and from the previous series one is bound to realize that they do not carry any footprints of the modern civilization, "time capsules" - objects, characterizing the time and place of the scene on the film. All the subjects and images are so simple and recognizable as if they have existed forever. Everything is displayed and dissolved, "mythology of the ordinary", pure sincerity, simplicity and harmony. Photographers, according to their personal opinion, are "conductors of some other irrational force", that is why intuition plays such a significant role in their creative activity.
Photography enjoys quite specific relations with the time and reality – it is able to stop a moment slipping away, opening the door both to the future and to the past. However people are loosing their trust to photo, as it can easily cheat and distort the reality. Maxim Shumilin and Mikhail Leshchenko create exactly such a made-up non-existing reality, where time and space are obviously distorted. In front of us there is an illusion, non-existing spaces, some mysterious Garden, where authors are trying to hide themselves. "Time stops here” – says Maxim Shumilin - "our whole creative process is a kind of escape to the paradise from the surrounding reality".
The images of the Garden and of a human inside of it are the key works in the series. This mysterious Garden bears features of the Keith Karter’s works, floridity of Joel Peter-Witkin photo frescos, mystics of Roger Ballen spaces and, naturally, sensationism of Sally Man landscapes.
Slowly looking through the series one gets aware that it is not an ordinary garden in front of him, but a mythological Eden, filled rather with wishes and fantasies of the authors than with their true memories. A person in those photos is dissolved with the nature and his desires, leveled and blurred by the field of the scene. Escape to the paradise, lost Eden, where in the cocoon of tree branches one can once more feel like in a mother’s womb, sense pagan sexuality and enjoy unrestricted imagination among the jungle of weeds. The viewer unwittingly enters the hidden realms of this world and feels the true restless pulsation of the Garden.