Capturing St Petersburg street life
By Sarah J Young, on 5 December 2012
Richard Morgan’s photographic response to the ‘Petersburg text’ of Russian literature reflects on the recurrring characters who populate the spaces of the city.
It was hard not to be deliberate in the most ‘intentional’ of cities, as Dostoevsky’s underground man described it. But then again, accidents and exceptions were hard to come by, so I had to manufacture them. There are obvious regularities to a city and a day’s walk is usually enough to notice some of them. I don’t know why, but there is a probability to urban chance. Some things you see today will happen again tomorrow.
St Petersburg’s repeatability lends itself to juxtaposition. Contrast happens every second on Nevsky Prospect. It is so predictable you can lie in wait. Moments of tension rapidly take place, rolling over and over in a never-ending series of visual jokes.
From the outset I knew it was possible to ambush the bold statements of the street. It didn’t matter that they went unannounced. If grand claims couldn’t be made here, I thought, then where? There was still the trouble, of course, of whether I was pressing too hard, framing too obviously or reasoning too much. It wasn’t that I felt compelled to represent, but obliged.
I honestly thought the buildings were sublime and beautiful, but I was more interested in different types of people. On my part, it was just a choice between the two. There was no rush to photograph ‘one-off’ scenes. I learned that they would form again the next day in exactly the same way. People returned to places of familiarity and assumed their poses. I plotted characters on a tourist map, providing new points of geographical reference alongside the main sites of attraction.
I wondered how many times the sites of the city had found their way onto canvas. I considered how they differed from one another, and which were more popular. At some point, I thought, all that watercolour, acrylic, charcoal and oil would have to make a return. When the paints dried, when the chalk ceased to smudge, did it mean the image was fixed forever?
Richard Morgan’s photograph “Streetwalker” (‘Eye contact on Nevskii prospekt’) was selected for the London Student Photography Exhibition in March 2012.
Richard Morgan is a research student studying at SSEES. His thesis focuses on the social philosophy of the Russian anarachist thinker Petr Kropotkin.
All images are by Richard Morgan and are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Note: This article gives the views of the author(s), and not the position of the SSEES Research blog, nor of the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, nor of UCL