Brazilian photographer Mauro Restiffe was worried about how the Russian public would respond to his depictions of their country. A show of his photographs, Post Soviet Russia 1995/2016, opened on April 7 at Moscow’s Garage Museum of Contemporary Art. “I’m a foreign artist looking at a culture and then showing a body of work that was commissioned in a country that is not mine,” he tells Creators Project.
The exhibition features two series of black-and-white photographs, the first taken in 1995 in Moscow and St. Petersburg, when Restiffe lived in the country. He photographed the second series over the last two years—Garage invited him to document the transformation of an old Soviet-era restaurant into their new building, a project conceived by renowned architect Rem Koolhaas.
Restiffe Skyped with The Creators Project from Sao Paolo. His careful consideration of Russian culture is as evident when he speaks as it is in his photographs, many of which focus on the details of both the landscape and more intimate interiors. Unsurprisingly, Restiffe had nothing to worry about—Moscow received his work quite well.
The Creators Project: How is the exhibition set up?
Mauro Restiffe: There’s one room. The display is very cinematic in a way that has modulations. You read from one thing into another. Things are interconnected in a way that becomes very fluid.
You mention the cinematic. In a film there’s some plot, some climax. Does this come through when you see the show?
I don’t think it happens that way. But there are some big variations in scale. There are only three large photos in the show, and maybe those create this climax aspect. But this was not my intention. It was more to modulate and to break with a rhythm that was already established.
In my current practice, I present more large-scale photos, but the early Russian photos were very intimate and smaller scale. I wanted to keep that and at the same time refer to what I’m doing now. You see two moments in my career and technique.
Why photograph architecture instead of people to get a sense of a society?
I’ve always been interested in architecture. Not necessarily photographing a building itself, but in contextualizing it. To have it framed within our time or to an event or to something that connects architecture to daily life. I always try to consider it as a background to something happening in the foreground. It’s not a direct way of looking at things. I’m always trying to deviate a bit. I’m very interested in the mundane aspect of places.
How have your connections with Moscow and St. Petersburg changed?
In the 90s, I lived in St. Petersburg. It was very small, very nostalgic, and very different from my experiences in big cities like Sao Paolo and New York. When I went to Moscow in the 90s it appeared to be very connected to my experience in big cities. When I went back to Moscow for this project, I fell in love. It’s very intense, very dynamic. Moscow has this amazing energy. When I went back to St. Petersburg, my connection was more related to the time I’d spent there. I stayed in the same apartment where I lived in the 90s. I connected with the woman who hosted me for eight months. She and the apartment are in photos in the show.
Post-Soviet Russia 1995/2015 is on view at Garage Museum of Contemporary Art until June 26.