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Monthly Archives: July 2012

Several weeks ago London was once more graced with a screening of an award winning documentary by Jennifer Baichwal that focuses on the astonishing body of work from the acclaimed Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky. The film was followed by Q&A session led by Francis Hodgson (critic and writer on photography for the Financial Times).

The screening took place at London’s temple of contemporary art, as well knows as Tate Modern past the gallery’ opening hours. So after overcoming three levels of some feisty security who (for some elusive reason) weren’t clearly notified about the event, me and my photojournalist companion finally made it to the small and intimate Starr Auditorium. Refreshments and drinks were still being served, which made for a good start. However what was truly shining is the crowd. Writers, critics, photographers,  art professors of London’s top universities and intellectuals of all sorts were promising for a stimulating evening.

To begin, Edward Burtynsky is an exceptionally talented artist whose large-scale photographs present the devastating impact of industrial growth on the environment. Having to put this in a less mannered way, they create an awareness of where our comfort living is coming from and at what particular costs. However, as much as Burtynsky’ photographs are about environmental, social and political dimensions of globalisation, they are also about striking visual aesthetics. His images represent nothing less than a sublime beauty of a photographic medium and this is how people like to refer to Burtynsky’s work.

The film opens with a side-tracking shot of Chinese factory and goes on for what seems like forever. The never-ending scene shows workers who are all dressed the same, all sitting in the same position, all mechanically carrying out their duties. It is almost disturbing to think that those are humans, not machines. From the very start Baichwal and Burtynsky direct the audience to the summary of the whole film – the unstoppable process of disrupting the natural order and the occurrence of an intentional one which we, humans, do not create, but indeed manufacture.

Throughout the rest of the film we follow Edward Butrynsky as he travels across the world documenting the severest areas of industrialisation. Among those we get to see the world’s largest dam in China, the ship breaking grounds in Bangladesh, the architectural expansions of Shanghai and oil factories in United States. Above that, Burtynsky never forgets to focus on people who take part in those grand projects and expansions. As for the stylistic approach of the documentary – film continually breaks up with still photographs those give the viewers a chance to dwell upon the details of the image and challenges them to discover an alternative way of looking at the world.

Saying all that… I must mention that in spite of raising political and social issues I could not help it realise how incredibly apolitical that film and Burtynsky’s work in truth are. Perhaps that was the finest trade of what I saw. Looking at the images of constructions, destructions, destructions for the sake of constructions I did not detect any agitations or struggles against the system. Is this effect achieved by that wonderful sense of aesthetic, that sublime beauty of Burtynsky’s work that I mentioned earlier? I am not too sure. Perhaps, it could also be due to the fact  that the photographer simply strives to enjoy his work without feeling the need to take sides or scatter the blame. As Burtynsky himself explains “there’s no right or wrong in the situation that we have created, but what it needs is the whole new way of thinking.”

All in all, Edward Burtynsky: Manufactured Landscapes holds your breath from the first to the last second. Through your eyes the images sink into your brain, then making their way right to your heart targeting everything in the equal measure. What an incredible occasions in art and culture where one can find that perfect balance and accessibility in appreciation.

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Couple of weeks ago the world saw the release of the first trailer for Keira Knightley‘s latest period film in which she takes a role of Leo Tolstoy‘s most renowned and troubled heroine, Anna KareninaThe film is directed by Joe Wright (AtonementPride & Prejudice). As for the rest of the leading cast, we have Jude Law as cuckold Alexei Karenin, Aaron Johnson as charming seducer Court Vronsky and Matthew Macfadyen as Anna‘s brother Oblonsky.

To be frank, it happens to be quite hard to evaluate foreign attempts to personate Russian characters. My Russian origins often lead me to the situations where my judgment focus suddenly gets all hazy.  That is why I wanted to skip on voicing my initial thoughts before I actually saw the full-length movie. Yet, as you can see I finally decided otherwise. Pushing ruthlessness and patriotism aside I promise to be as fair as I can allow myself to be.

Keira’s substantial experience in period cinema makes me want to believe she did well in giving justice to the complex character of Anna Karenina. However, it is also safe to acknowledge that this is, no doubt, the most ambitious part of her career. On top of everything, we are talking about one of the world’s greatest literary masterpieces. In this situation you can never be skeptical enough, can you?

Two and a half minutes of the snippet show that this time Joe Wright has taken exceedingly theatrical approach in visualisation of the novel. Decorative settings of Russian architecture of the 18th and 19th centuries, fancy ball-rooms, theatre stages and of course rich looking costumes so far appear so refined and glamorous. I can almost catch an aesthetic inspired by Baz Luhrmann‘s Moulin Rouge. This on its own can be an exciting and at the same time extremely dangerous prospect. Can anyone beat Luhrmann at his own game? Is theatrical allure and decorative vision of Tolstoy exactly what I should be expecting from the film? Here comes the alarming moment when I stumble into feeling “pessimistic in advance”.

Well let’s not be hasty. Full and elaborate review will have to wait until the film hits the screens in autumn this year. The world premier of the movie will take place in London on the 7th of September.

There were many interesting things happening in Paris this Tuesday, but there was one that overcame them all. Ulyana Sergeenko, an auteur fashion designer from Russia presented her first Haute Couture Collection at the Marigny Theatre in Champs-Élysées.

Natalia Vodianova closing the show. Photo by Kamel Lahmadi at Style & The City

There are couple of reasons why I am using cinematic term to introduce Ulyana in this entry. First of all, her designs are quite theatrical. Second and the most valid reason would have to be her distinct style. When you see gentle lines, long ample skirts, retro floral patterns, Soviet inspired aesthetic – you know exactly that you are looking at one of Ulyana’s masterpieces. It is hard to be mistaken really. She sticks to her guns and it definitely works. Those may not be the clothes I would personally put on my back, but they are certainly clothes I can appreciate and admire. That is why when I heard the news about her debut in Paris I could not help it to be more anxious than excited. I wanted her to do well.

The whole occasion somehow reminded me of 1981 when Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo first arrived in Paris. They were an “army” weaponed up with unfamiliar styles, all ready to carve Japan into the stone of the world’s fashion history. Okay, perhaps they did not think about it quite this way at the time, nevertheless it is exactly what happened. They came, they showed and they conquered. So, I began to wonder… could Ulyana repeat the same success for the Russians? Could it be the beginning of a new exciting era for Russian fashion on the international arena? Truthfully it was building up to it for some time now. After all, in the recent five years or so more talented fashion designers emerged than it ever did in the past century.

Ironically, the Army analogy ended up being a spot-on. After all, what are Russians truly good at? Aside from gas and oil… war and women! Well and literature too. So it seems without much pondering Ulyana took the strengths of the nation and masterfully applied them in her creative process. What a smart move that was. On a magic carpet no less, the collection takes me to the time of Leo Tolstoy, to the pages of “War and Peace”, to Romanticism, to the days when ladies were called Baryshnyas. Looking at the overcoats, voluminous skirts, uniquely executed scarves, traditional Russian cut and of course various furs, I do not particularly see a Russian fairy-tale. I see an officer’s mother, his bride, his wife, and his widow. Through those clothes I see their characters, their femininity and their strengths too. I picture their entire life stories. In a sense it is mind blowing. What can be better than fashion that has a meaning beyond itself?

I applaud the enormous effort those pieces entail (the wool and cashmere hand-embroidered coat alone required sixty days of work). I applaud the fabrics and the finish. I applaud the coordinator of the show or whomever it is I should be applauding for the fact that each ensemble worked in a perfect harmony with a model that wore it. At last, I applaud Ulyana and her teams who were brave and made it happen. There are things to improve; things to still reach out for of course. However that first battle was victorious. Now there is still a “war” ahead and many more battles to fight. Thus I wish Ulyana and all the other gifted Russian designers the best of luck and never to loose that strength of theirs.

Holding Shot Image Credits @ Style & The City Catwalk Image Credits @ Vogue.fr

The hardest thing to realize in fashion is that the future lies in the past. The second hardest thing is to forget the past.” – Cathy Horyn

“Raf Simons will replace John Galliano at the House of Dior!”. Do we all remember this news? People were so sceptical and so was I. In my personal case being sceptical is an understatement actually. I just could not quite see Raf Simons “in Dior“. I also could not quite let go of Galliano Era. I was sure Simons will never match up for Galliano. Perhaps it is true, perhaps he never will. Although, is it really… such a terrible thing?

Let me leave the controversial for later and concentrate on fashion for now. What do we have? We have sculptural suits, we have fur, we have tie-dye fabrics, we have old-fashioned grey ensembles and “Marie Antoinette” dresses. When I put it this way the collection certainly sounds like a disaster. And it might have been a disaster indeed, unless it was tied up with one ultimate concept – Dior iconic look. Paying respect to the founder, Simons employs three unshakable attributes of classic Dior fashion – corset, wide skirt and highlighted waist. Yet of course, as I would have expected from Simons, he simplifies them. He strips them down: the corsets are loosened up, the crinoline is mostly taken off and the waist is accented gently rather than vigorously. Somehow It feels like letting the fresh air into the lungs. It makes me want to take a deep breath. What a wonderful physical act, isn’t it? So simple, but so beautiful and essential. And that is exactly how Simons’ collection appears to be. Please, by no means my words should be taken from feminist perspective. No political implications intended; rather I am simply trying to find an allegory to define beautiful set of clothing.

Despite my eternal love and appreciation for Galliano’s work, once in a life-time I am thrilled to see Haute Couture collection that is wearable. In this particular case the word “wearable” as opposed to “Haute Couture” does not mean cheaper, simpler or lacking. Because as we speak my tumblr dashboard seems to be exploding with hatred coming from zealous fifteen year old fashion “activists”. They are insulted by the fact that Simons’ collection does not contain complexity and pompousness that supposedly determine Haute Couture shows. What am I doing? I am quietly munching on every detail of beautiful shapes, combination of fabrics, stunning hand craft and the mien of pure elegance. I feel there’s no need for me to comment on colours. As long as the qualities mentioned above are in tact, colour is the last thing I care about.

It seems to me that Dior made the right choice after all. So let’s release the past (not all of it), embrace a different (not better or worse) looking future and take a long deep breath. Once in while the change of air is truly healthy.

Catwalk Image Credits @ Style.com  Detail Image Credits @ Buro247.ru