If you don’t read books, you will soon forget how to read

When anything and everything remotely linked to culture better happen behind closed doors, you better hope your library is stocked with the right balance of books. This, we imagine, is what a book shelf would have looked liked in St Petersburg circa 1984.

Photography Yassin Serghini

From top to bottom: Black and white (Steidl), Verses and versions (Harcourt Inc), Yesterday’s sandwich (Phaidon), 7KM (Snoeck), Red star over Russia (Tate), Vania (Gestalten)

From top to bottom: Black and white (Steidl), Verses and versions (Harcourt Inc), Yesterday’s sandwich (Phaidon), 7KM (Snoeck), Red star over Russia (Tate), Vania (Gestalten)

Verses and Versions; Three Centuries of Russian Poetry (2008) – Selected and translated by Vladimir Nabokov – Harcourt Inc

Think Nabokov and Lolita is bound to be the first thing you think of. Though he gained worldwide acclaim through his novels, the Russian writer was also a formidable literary critic, chess player and linguistic doyen. Collected for the first time in one volume are Nabokov’s translations of Russian poetry, set along their original Russian versions as well as capsule profiles of the poets, including the greats such as Pushkin, Lermontov and Fet. Not just a mere anthology, this is a master class in the hopes, risks and thrills of translating. Don’t expect perfect facsimiled versions but instead an appreciation of one of Russia’s greatest literary minds executing a passion with the discursive and eloquent style he is famed for.

Available from Amazon

7KM (2009) – Kirill Golochenko – Snoeck

Europe’s largest marketplace lies on 70 hectares of what used to be wheat fields and a waste processing plant, seven kilometres from Odessa. This photographic series captures the workings of this ‘Field of Wonders’ that dates back to the Second World War and which developed from the most famous flea market in the Soviet Union. Documenting the people, commodities and conditions of this rather surreal and remarkable place, Golochenko depicts its streets of containers organised by bright colours and market stalls filled with wedding dresses, inflatable’s and imitation tiger rugs, everything a person could ever possibly need, or not. A celebration of kitsch and post-soviet wonderland.

Available from Amazon

Yesterday’s Sandwich (2007) – Boris Mikhailov – Phaidon

Hailed by many as one of the most, if not the most, influential photographers from the former Soviet Union, Boris Mikhailov’s work has left an indelible imprint on contemporary photography. Famous for his disturbingly honest Case History series, capturing the silent despair and social disintegration following the collapse of the Soviet Union in a full frontal manner, his early work deserves equal mention. The intriguing Yesterday’s Sandwich (1966) series resulted from a simple accident, when Mikhailov inadvertently super-imposed two slides and was fascinated by the outcome. He proceeded to purposely juxtapose nature close-ups, interiors and nudity (a major taboo in the Soviet era), with the intention of celebrating beauty or its absence. The results of his experimentations are suggestive, poetic, ridden with meaning – both abstract and figurative – but mostly, of a breathtaking beauty.

Available from Amazon

Black and White; A Suprematist Composition of 1915 by Kazimir Malevich (2009) – Andrei Nakov – Steidl

The groundbreaking painting ‘Black and White; Suprematist Composition‘(1915) by Kazimir Malevich (1879-1935) is the focus of this little wonder. Recent advances in conservation work mean that scholars are now able to understand this single piece in more detail. Articulated in the Suprematist ‘grammar’ of pure geometrical forms, the painting, along with others by Malevich like ‘White on White’ and ‘Black Square’, envisioned a new art, breaking with traditional form and realism. The book gives readers a peek into Malevich’s vision and conceptualism, placing it in the context of the fermenting political landscape and the wider international art scene of the time. A great synopsis of this abstract masterpiece of the Russian avant-garde, one which would go on to be an inspiration to so many movements in years to come, paving the way for Italian futurists and American minimalists in the 1950s.

Available from Amazon

Red star over Russia (2009) – David King – Tate

A mammoth of a book filled to the brim with posters, graphics and photographs detailing the course of events following the revolution from 1917 until the death of Stalin in 1953. This volatile period saw upheaval, civil unrest, war and the decimation of famine. The 1930s brought Stalin’s Great terror followed by the violent onslaught of the Nazi military machine. Scaling whimsical portraits of ordinary life and famous intellectuals to propaganda-pushing Stalin’s five-year plan, this is a dynamic look at the Soviet Union in its most changeable period. For a book with so many remarkable images, it is crammed full of historical insight. Definitely not just your average picture book.

Available from Amazon

Vania (2010) – Vania Zouravliov – Gestalten

Child prodigies never fail to spark interest, but in Vania Zouravliov’s case, it feels as though the body of work has managed to surpass the myth. The son of a painter and an art teacher, Vania dabbled around from an early age and counted international exhibitions and several television appearances by the time he turned thirteen. His remarkably detailed drawings are surreal and haunting portrayals of idealistic and ethereal beauty tinged with darkness. Morbid overtones of death, decay and decadence seep and overwhelm the dreamlike states, which resonate through much of his work. With influences ranging from his native Russian folklore and art to Japanese illustration and pop art, Zouravliov delivers an intriguing body of work in this monograph. Layered with dark motifs that are reminiscent of silent movies, “Vania” is thrilling, alluring and definitely disturbing.

Available from Gestalten Online Store