Igor Moukhin

Published: March 9, 2012

Considered to be one of Russia’s most brilliant contemporary photographers, Igor Vladimirovich Moukhin was born in Moscow on November 19, 1961.  Although he realized his passion for photography at the age of 16, he worked as a heating technician and yard cleaner for several years before actively pursuing an artistic education. Finally, between 1984 and 1985, he attended classes at the studio of Alexander Lapin, a prominent Muscovite photographer who organized the “studio of artistic photographers” in Moscow State University’s House of Culture between 1985 and 1987. From 1987 onwards, Moukhin regularly held personal exhibitions of his work. He spent several years photographing rock musicians of the Soviet underground music scene during the Perestroika years of the 1980s, a decade that was to prove instrumental in his work’s growth. Moukhin quickly became known for his portraits of renowned musicians Viktor Tsoi, Boris Grebenshikov, and Petr Mamonov among others.

Igor Moukhin “Wedding”

It has been said that Moukhin is an artist who was fortunate enough to find himself in the right place at the right time. He began work during Perestroika and Glasnost, and his rise to prominence traces the waning years of Communism and the blossoming of new Russian capitalism. He began work as a free-lance photographer in 1989. In 1988, his work was published in Artemy Troitsky’s work “Back in the USSR: The True Story of Rock in Russia”.  In 1990, his work was published in another of Troitsky’s works, “Tusovka: Who’s Who in the New Soviet Rock Culture”. Moukhin photographed a fading subculture, and, while collections of his work sell for tens of thousands of dollars today, he did it only for art’s sake.

Beginning at the onset of perestroika in 1985, Moukhin’s work was displayed and published not only in the Soviet Union but abroad.  In 1988 the onset of his collections Fragments and Soviet Monuments shot him to prominence amongst the leaders of the new era of Russian photography. Fragments, which features details of Soviet propaganda posters and other Soviet artwork, is typical of some of Moukhin’s work, which turns Soviet symbolism on its head by highlighting the transient, fading nature of art that was designed to inspire and unite a nation. Through Moukhin’s gaze, the now destabilized symbols lose their potency. The Fragments series coincided with the West’s rising interest in early Soviet posters, such as those designed by Alexander Rodchenko, the co-founder of the Constructivist movement.

Igor Moukhin From Soviet Monuments

Moukhin was an original member (1989-91) of the group “Immediate Photography” (Группа «Непосредственная фотография»), founded by fellow artist and photographer Alexei Shulgin in Moscow as a movement against ideologically stereotypical Socialist Realist photographs.  Аt the time, Moukhin was shooting his 1985-1989 series, Young People, which featured the youth of Moscow in everyday situations, from communal shower rooms to arm wrestling competitions and groups smoking in bars.  The subjects of Young People were ordinary youths, ranging from the downright nerdy to pseudo hippies and punk rockers who wouldn’t look out of place in the West.   It was this style of photography that attracted critics’ attention, as it showed the world in the raw, without filters or interpretations.  It soon became clear to those in the art scene that Moukhin had the ability to adeptly grasp the paradoxes of nature and mankind.

It has been said that Moukhin’s work has not only great artistic, but also great documentary, value.   Many have claimed that he is actually more talented at visual storytelling than are many of today’s professional photojournalists. Sometimes it is unclear whether he is a photojournalist working within the framework of modern art, or a modern artist working within the bounds of photojournalism.  It is this unique vision that has contributed to his popularity. His work has a certain effortlessness and casualness about it, although nothing he creates is purely accidental. Many have, in fact, called him a sniper, due to his propensity to hunt for details in order to attain perfection.

Igor Mukhin Portraits of a City in Extreme Transition

It is this talent for capturing details that contributes greatly to his popularity. Not only was he in the right place at the right time to memorialize the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of New Russia, but he found himself in Georgia two weeks before the outbreak of the 2008 war.  Again, in keeping with his signature style, his subjects are captured without the appearance of staging: smoking, drinking, swimming in the sea and playing chess. When one considers that many of the images were taken less than a month before the outbreak of hostilities, they are cast in a particularly poignant light, as Georgians bask in the fading days of a peaceful summer.

Although many Russian artists and photographers remain largely unknown outside of the former Soviet Union, Moukhin has risen to popularity and renown abroad.  In 1999, he received a grant from the Parisian mayor sponsored by the French Fonds National d’Art Contemporain (The National Fund for Contemporary Art) in order to produce a work commemorating the turn of the millennium. At this time, he undertook a series known in English simply as Paris, which shows that there is more to the famed ‘city of light’ than just the iconic Eiffel Tower. For example one shot portrays a drunk with his pants wide open. Typical of his work in the Soviet Union and Russia, Paris is a mirror held up to the city and its youth.

Since then, Moukhin has been far from a stranger on the French arts scene, as several of his works from the series Soviet Monuments, Benches, Fragments, Soviet Children’s Playgrounds, Night Moscow and Provinces, among others, were displayed in 2007 at the Parisian art space, La Maison Rouge . He has also had work hung at Paris’ Le Galerie Carré Noir.  Rather unusually for many modern Russian artists, Moukhin’s work has not only been displayed in France but elsewhere worldwide. Other countries of exhibition include the Netherlands, Latvia, Denmark, France, Austria, Sweden, China and the United States.

Igor Mukhin Portraits of a City in Extreme Transition

This popularity has led to several awards and much recognition, both at home and abroad.  He has been a member of the International Federation of Artists since 1994, and in that same year, he received the “Man of Art” State Prize of Russia.  In 1996, he spoke at the Fourth International Conference of Photography in Riga, Latvia on the topic of “The Image: A Phenomenon of Everyday Culture”.  He has taught at the Independent Academy of Moscow and the Independent Academy of Photographic Arts in Kiev.  A collection of forty-one gelatin silver prints in the series entitled My Moscow and Monuments, taken between 1989 and 2004, was recently estimated at a worth of £10,000 to £15,000 ($16,000-$24,000).

Moukhin’s photographic talent continues to garner increased popularity and international attention. His photojournalistic talent for capturing everything from bored Soviet youth to French lovers has gained the attention of art critics worldwide, but it is his true artistic talent that fuels his popularity. Finding himself ‘in the right place at the right time’ he has recorded the fall of the Soviet Union, the blossoming of the new Russian Federation and the continuing struggle for the establishment of stable nationhood. His acute sense of photojournalistic duty and artful composition has captured mundane moments and turned them into a representation of history, and has made a mockery of Soviet symbolism. His way of viewing the world – completely without filters – has dispelled myths about the Russian people, and has reflected our world to us without a romantic or critical eye.

About the author

Taryn Jones

Taryn Jones graduated in 2008 from the University of Victoria (Canada) with her BA in history and anthropology. During that time, she also studied Russian and art history, and was heavily involved with the university’s Russian Studies course union. In January 2012, she will begin her studies at the University of British Columbia in a double Master’s program in library and archival science. Ideally, she would like to work in a gallery or museum’s library or archive. She has traveled throughout Russia on numerous occasions, and first studied in St Petersburg in 2007. In 2009, she traveled across the country, beginning at the Mongolian border and going westwards towards St Petersburg. In recent years, she has studied art history and museum studies in St Petersburg with SRAS. Most recently, she wrote articles for SRAS’s “Cheap Eats” feature and interned in the Youth Education Center of the State Hermitage, where she researched artists, edited English-language texts and translated Russian texts to English. Taryn’s specific artistic interests are the Wanderers, Socialist Realism and photography.

Program attended: Art and Museums in Russia

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