The window of Serge Romanov
“There is no window itself, an idea of a window as any means of culture contains expediency. Anything that is not expedient is not a phenomena of culture. Therefore, whether light or wood or glass, a window is never just a window.”
Pavel Florensky, “Iconostasis”
For more than a century and a half, one of the most fascinating novels has been the history of Russian photography. Nowadays, the novel unfolds in the decoration of various historical epochs, every one of them seen through the eyes of the avowed masters of photography, who honor the experience of their predecessors. The young generation longing for ultimate freedom also creates using and analyzing the previous achievements in the area. Undoubtedly, books, the Internet, and a great number of seminars and master classes gives the opportunity for anyone to learn from the masters. However, how often do photographers address it in their daily practice?
Throughout history, people have been eager for fairy tales, romances, and fantastic stories you could hardly believe. A fairy tale is a mystery that cannot be revealed by any one teller, but only from those who believe in it and see. They see what is hidden in the unreal world of the fairy tale, to see love that makes our real world not so empty. The invention of photography is said to be the observation of the famous Greek scientist Aristotle, in the sixth century BC, when he described unusual phenomena of light going through a small hole in a window shutter, painting the landscape behind it on the wall in front of him. Thus, long before the appearance of the first print on paper, light was defined as a mystery.
A piece of art is born not among theatrical scenery, but in the photographic studio where every object is functional. You can realize the magic of the space only after seeing what is being born there. There is nothing unnecessary in the studio of Moscow photographer Serge Romanov, though everything from the antique wooden cameras (which are repaired, in perfect working condition) and old optical devices to the characters who visit the place resemble the first frames of cult movie The Phantom of the Opera. A once-forgotten, darkened chandelier flashes to life again with genuine colors. The history of Romanov’s studio started when “photography captivated him as a kind of art.” According to him, it happened 25 years ago, when he simply found it interesting to capture what he saw around him. There were neither cameras nor films, nor money to develop and print then. His first camera was his own eyes.
Romanov uses the ambrotype technique to make his work. You’ re unlikely to have heard of it unless you devote your life to photography. It was first discussed in March 1851, when the Englishman Frederic Scott Archer delivered a report on the wet collodion process at the Royal Scientific Society in Great Britain and at the Paris Academy of Science. Archer called the wet plate collodion process ambrotype. The word means immortal image in ancient Greek. It was its invention that made photography more popular and available.
Ambrotype as a fairy tale can be created only when you trust it. Romanov came into it in a mysterious way, and has become one of the most professional in this area. He doesn’t care about popularity, and only sometimes agrees to exhibit his works as he doesn’t want to turn his art into commodities. He used it as a sort of protest against the emasculating work making glossy, editorial images that he had become known for; he shot for some of the most prestigious gmagazines, such as Playboy, XXL, and worked for such companies as ТНТ, Vnukovo Airlines, FashionTV, Rive Gauche, FHM, STSTV, MuzTV, and some others. He was recognized by, and invited to, a number of countries to give master classes on photography and exhibit his work, but he found that editorial work was expendable. That was when ambrotype came into his life. He liked it because each work became an artifact, and he realized that he had grown into an artist.
Romanov’s photos are easily recognized. They’re referred to, copied, and posted on social media, and there are videos of his interviews and lectures where he mentions masters who have influenced him, such as Pieter Bruegel, Lucas Cranach, Giorgione and Baldassarre Peruzzi, Hans Rudolf Giger, Zdzisław Beksiński, and others. Romanov calls himself a simple observer with a camera, and when opening the shutter he simply waits for a miracle, and it did in the end.
Following the rules of the fairy tale, Romanov said that the best thing that could’ve happened to photography was that it became available to everybody. It stopped belonging to a narrow circle of swaggering people looking to possess some sacred knowledge. They are only interested in presentation, not in the process of creation.
Romanov supposes that a photo itself cannot be evaluated, taking into consideration a certain style of personality—the way of giving oneself up to business and what it results in. In conclusion, his works seem to become the chapter of Russian philosophy where the window is the light anyway.
ArtMix Evartspace, Geneva
ArtWynwood Art Fair, USA
Maimi SELECT, USA
Art Nocturnal ArtHouse, USA