Winter is on the way, and so it seems a good time to look at the work of hotly-tipped Estonian photographer Alexander Gronsky, whose first solo exhibition has just opened at the Aperture Foundation in Chelsea. The Edge is a collection of images of Gronsky’s adopted home of Moscow, and it won him the Aperture Foundation prize last year.
Or, more specifically, it’s an exploration of the places where the city ends and the great white expanse of the winter landscape begins, a border zone that’s also evoked in the name of the exhibition itself. In a way reminiscent of Amy Stein, who we featured here a couple of weeks ago, Gronsky’s work exists on the border between civilisation and the wilderness that surrounds it. But whereas Stein’s images look at our interactions with animals, Gronsky’s work is more reflective and abstract, examining the landscape itself moreso than its denizens.
That landscape is often bleak – huge, soulless communist apartment blocks, skeletal power poles, cyclone fences that seem to delineate completely arbitrary areas in the emptiness – but there’s a desolate beauty to it. Gronsky also has an eye for the quirks of humanity – incongruous splashes of colour recur in the photos, from a sole green satellite dish against the otherwise blank backdrop of a huge apartment block to a pair of dogs in bright red and blue snow jackets. The colour seems to serve as a reminder that even in such stark surrounds, the human spirit has a habit of surviving and thriving.
Still, the images aren’t exactly bursting with good cheer, with the photographer also using the ever-present snow as an evocation of the distance – both physical and metaphysical – between his subjects. The accompanying material for The Edge makes the interesting point that the snow in Gronsky’s work serves to separate people, highlighting the borders between them rather than bringing them together. At times, the sky and the landscape bleed into one another, white on white, so that the people depicted seem to float in some opalescent void, close but never touching.
Gronsky’s work has already won him plenty of acclaim – along with the Aperture Portfolio Prize last year, he’s also won several awards in Russia – and he’s definitely a name to watch: his website suggests that he’s working on a new project called Pastoral that explores similar territory: “In this project I explore wastelands within Moscow city, areas that are not urban nor rural, areas that lack definition”. It also looks fascinating, and State of the Art looks forward to the finished product.
Meanwhile, the Aperture Foundation is also showing an exhibition highlighting six decades of Spanish photography at the moment, making a trip down to West 27th Street a most excellent way to spend the afternoon.