Early Photo Happenings 1962-1972
Since 1962, or may be even earlier, Valera Cherkashin was interested in taking pictures of his own body. It was a possibility to express himself through photography, it was a fixation of a certain phases of his life. One of the first groups of bodybuilding in the USSR. The typical equipment of that time: wheels of a car, street car rails, weight from a grocery store, dumb-bells, etc...
Beginning of Bodybuilding in the USSR
All Valera’s actions were not a public nature, not preparing for the show or for exhibitions. This was fixing a purely internal process, inner desire and understanding of the importance of photography and the process of taking pictures, in a person's life. At that time he printed photographs very selectively, so little vintages are left.
Group of Bodybuilding.
Valera learned fast and liked to share his new knowledge. He involved all his friends and neibourghs into his excersizes and posing.
Valery studies– the contents his own ‘self’ – through the form (his posture, gesture, face expression and the accessories). Hi was taken over by the original aspect of his own personality and its projection on the general issues such as religious philosophy.
It was a self portrait, posing with an artificial rose, a mirror and a sword. The camera was put on a self timer. Two lamps were fixed to a chair from both sides.
I'm an Actor. Monologue.
The main aspect of his photographs of the Kharkov period is their documentalism and the serial run. The artist captured his spontaneous happenings and the experimental performances using his camera to record the change of his bodily and face expressions .
Night with a Pioneer Leader.
Sublimation of sexual energy into the art.
(Dedication to Sigmund Freud)
Involuntary action, sublimation of not accom-plished coitus .
Participants: Valera Cherkashin, manipulator and docu-mentary photographer, Pioneer leader, who didn’t consent to the sexual act, despite of numerous hot attempts by the manipulator Valera.
Used objects: a tripled mirror, a bottle, a hand, a broom, a shoe of the pioneer leader.
Location: USSR, Kharkov, home of Valera Cherkashin. 1967.
Works from that series are in the collection of New York Public Library and Jane Voorheers Zimmerli Art Museum.
The scientific experience and experiment to create unreal, non-existent event was used here. All of the used objects were not really in the mouth of the girl. This is revealed in one of the pictures where you can see the second reflection of the Pioneer leader, with her mouth empty, although both reflections exist in same photograph. And of course that series is full of irony, even a mockery, because all these actions were made instead of intercourse. As a result, you see some variations of the illusion of sexual intercourse, inspired by the fantasy of young participants.
It was also a year of hope and change for the Eastern Bloc. The Russian leader Khrushchev had let go of the reins and and hippies and their values cautiously made their appearance even behind the Iron Curtain. In Czechoslovakia the Prague Spring was the symbol of the desire for liberation. In this period of a relative relaxation of repression the Czechoslovakian capital hummed with rumors. Everything was possible in the West; consumer goods were cheap and abundant, unemployment relief was higher than salaries in the East. The authorities turned a blind eye to contacts with the West through literature and radio broadcasts. But within the same year Soviet tanks put an end to the revival. All that was left were the photographs of the 'Prague Picknick', a performance about that short-lived sense of freedom which had flared up in 1968.
End of Hippie. "A Week of Cutting Hair"
Since 1968-69's Cherkashin was completely fascinated by the hippie movement. This process lasted until 1972, and then somehow ended.
The series “A Week of cutting hair. The End of Hippie” is another fixation of the period of transition, when one period of life was over and gave way to the new period. Using his intuition Cherkashin took pictures of the process of that transition, which consisted of four periods.
1 - Making decision to cut the hair, some struggle with himself.
2 - Discreet process of cutting the hair, step by step during one week.
3 - Birth of a new image, the joy of accomplishment.
4 - Awareness like a new man.
All together 63 photographs were taken. This series is a selection of 12.
12 Pictures from this series are in the collection of New York Public Library.
They were exhibited there in 2011 at the exhibition "Recent Acquisitions: Prints and Photographs".
The Early Works of Valera Cherkashin.
It is hard to believe that in the God forsaken year 1960-something in the totalitarian Soviet society could appear such photos. The people like that simply didn't exist, as well as the games and the pictures. I don't believe in it.
The only think that shakes my otherwise strong disbelieve in that impossibility is the fact, that I personally know the Cherkashin family very well and, looking at those old photos I can simply recognize their faces. On one of them Valera is a boy, playing with weighs. On the other one he is a provincial factory designer. This obvious identity of the artist and the model makes me say "I do believe!". I believe that it's not only a self portrait in front of me, but a true reflection of that time as well, though strikingly different from the one we are used to. Cherkashin never had practiced the reportage photography - it was impossible to publish such sots at the time, and his works didn't reflect the 'true Soviet reality'. He didn't belong to the 'photo amateurs' group - imagine discussing such works at the state supported photographers club! Neither did he take part in the 'artistic photography' movement. What we see in front of us in the 'outsider' photography.
The outsider photography is subjective and non-descriptive. It ignores the modern tools and technology, but the narrative itself became the centre of the artist's attention. We are talking about principally new kind of the narrative.
The young provincial innovator had no idea that the revolutionary artists such as Nobuyoshi Araki, Arnulf Rainer, Duane Michals or Robert Frank existed. If the 1960s-1970s in the Soviet Union was the period of freedom of information and international communication we could have suspect the cross influences and on that basis to engage into long discussions on the interplay of the Soviet and Western photography. But it was impossible behind the Iron curtain in the closed city of Kharkov. Some can suggest that the similarity of life conditions can give the similarity of artistic expressions. Do you see the link between the capital city of Tokyo and provincial God forgotten Kharkov? Or between life of Robert Frank and self-taught communal flat resident from the apartment block with no through-running water supply? The most progressive is always the most marginal. The new tendencies are rarely appreciated by the contemporaries - there are no recognized criteria yet to evaluate their work. In the 1960s-1970s Valera Cherkashin made an important discovery in the field of visual language - the unnoticed discovery. The time has come to recognize his achievement and to give his early works the merited place in the history of Soviet photography.
The series of Cherkashin are filled with irony and joyful atmosphere of game, engaging play with dressing up and mask swapping. Quite possibly for him the game was the only way to escape the reality of Soviet life and to get a feel for freedom. Who in the year 1960 could imagine that it would be his lifetime way of living?
Professor of Moscow Rodchenko School of Photography