17.11.2012 - 16.12.2012

Black Sea of Concrete - exhibition of photography by Rafał Milach

Black Sea of Concrete - exhibition of photography by Rafał Milach. Part of project Ukraine - Next-Door Neighbour.

The fertile land of Ukraine was in Hitler's dreams, but it fell prey to Stalin. It was up to him and others like him to cultivate this land. They did their best. Now they are long gone, but the fertile Ukraine continues to produce its crops — further lumps of concrete. Cracked on the surface, with rusty streaks, but firmly embedded in the ground. It is like a feeling of guilt in the fairy-tale Black Sea landscape. It reminds us that changes take time. It reminds us of Ukraine, wanting to change so much, but failing again and again. It's as if everything had been concreted over, on the outside and on the inside.

It's just a few years after the Orange Revolution, but people have already gave up hope that things can get better. They are confused and tired of political disorder. It was bad in the past. That's right. But there was order. And now it's no better and there's no order, either. 'Eastern Ukraine with Crimea should rejoin Russia, and the western part could go to the European Union', says Aleksandr, sipping his beer. He is twenty-five and has lots of time for sipping beer, although officially he is working in a hotel in Alushta. 

The whole Soviet Union used to relax in the Black Sea resorts. The only things left after Soviet holidaymakers are the Soviet architecture, mentality and nostalgia. Hardly anyone speaks Ukrainian in Crimea. The fact that it was made the official language of Ukraine is seen by many locals as a presidential whim. But it seems harmless, since they are discussing it in Russian.                                                           

Rafał Milach

' don't consider myself a press photographer, admits Rafał Milach (b. 1978). I'm trying to interpret reality rather than just show it, he adds. The works of the artist born in Gliwice seem to be full of tension and experiments. Not necessarily formal ones, as Milach has remained faithful to documentary photography since he started work on his firs, black-and-white cycle devoted to his Silesian homeland (Szare, 2000-2002). Despite the favourable reception of his black-and-white photographs, Milach continued to develop his concept of photography and engaged in a bold use of colours in his work for national dailies and weeklies. A breakthrough in the photographer's career came with the first prize in the 2008 World Press Photo competition, awarded for a series of photographs published in ”Polityka”, titled Vanishing circus. The tale of retired circus artists is told by means of a series of portraits of clowns, jugglers, acrobats and animal trainers. The photos, evoking the atmosphere of David Lynch's films, have been favourably received by jurors of many press photography competitions and displayed in modern art galleries. Because of the prize I was recognised as an artist, commented Rafał Milach with irony. A special place in Milach's documentary output is occupied by the former Soviet block states. Since 2004 the photographer has been travelling to the East, working on a monumental collection devoted to Russia. Seven Rooms is a story focusing on the lives of seven people born in the Soviet Union times, but growing up during perestroika and system transformation. Photos from the lives of ordinary people have created the author's comment on post-communist circumstances. Another project touching upon the region's problems was the book and exhibition Black Sea of Concrete (2009). Taken in Ukraine, the photos combined a sense of nostalgia for the past with an analysis of the present living conditions of the inhabitants of the Black Sea coast. Milach develops his vision of photography focused on a specific country in a series of photographs taken in Iceland (Driving with R, 2010). His interest in documentary photography and the region of Central and Eastern Europe is not limited to creating original photography series, but is also expressed in organisational activity. Milach is known in the professional circles as one of the creators and spiritus movens of the Sputnik Photos collective, consisting of the most interesting documentary photographers in the region.

Adam Mazur