A prolific Russian photojournalist, Sergey Maximishin is better known in Europe than he is in the United States, but the Nailya Alexander Gallery has introduced his gritty work to a New York audience. On view through January 18, Siberia brings together photographs from a region whose name conjures punishing exile in a frozen wasteland. His color photographs, despite occasional glimpses of humor and regular expressions of visual poetry, do little to alter that impression.
A number of the photographs on view were taken in Norilsk, built by prisoners and now one of the most polluted cities in the world. According to Maximishin’s website, Norilsk is the site of a mining plant that produces palladium, platinum, and nickel and releases such high carbon dioxide emissions that residents have a shorter lifespan by 10 years compared with the rest of Russia. Though all of the residents are at risk, the children in his photographs seem in particular peril, including the four crossing through ruins on what looks like an exposed piece of pipe. In another photograph, a mural with enormous orange flowers and butterflies seems to mock the grim-faced people trudging past it through the knee-high snow.
The sun is a fleeting presence: in Tobolsk, a young woman stands in the soft light of an open window, cleaning the panes, in an image that recalls an Old Master painting. But there’s nothing soft about the sun in Ferry through Irtysh River, Tobolsk, Russia, which glints off the cross hanging around the driver’s neck as well as his menacing gold teeth. Most of the man’s face remains in shadow, so that his smile is nearly disembodied. It’s one of the most remarkable images in a show with no shortage of clear-eyed, observant photographs.