Photographer Boris Smilov… Soviet photography smuggled into “apartment galleries”.

Digging deep into some pages preserved in my memory, it seems to me that I saw the photographic works of a photographer named Boris Ivanovich Smilov during the perestroika period of the late eighties of the last century. I spent time in Leningrad, Russia (Soviet Union). It is dedicated to displaying photographs in a small hall in the city. These images revolve around two themes: urban scenes and still life. Some of them are in memory, and here the word images takes on a real and material dimension, not metaphorical or ghostly.

Boris Ivanovich Smilov (1951-1998) was undoubtedly one of the founders of unofficial Soviet photography of the 1970s and 1980s. He was a legend in the St. Petersburg School of Photography, admired by all involved in the art of “light painting,” and a well-known name among photographers, collectors, and photo critics and historians. It is impossible to ignore his influence and what he accomplished by contemporary photographers in St. Petersburg. His photographs of St. Petersburg are not only magnificent in their own right, but they are some of the most expressive images of the city taken in the last century.

Boris Smilo's creative works are closely connected to the city, dedicated and determined. At the same time, he approaches the international, and his works stand among the most important achievements of international photography. He had a great influence on his contemporaries and representatives of Soviet art that did not conform to unwritten rules, or admittedly called “underground art”, it can be said that he had many followers, i.e. His victims were at the School of Modern Photography in St. Petersburg.

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Boris Smilov was born on March 13, 1951 in Leningrad. He lived all his life on Vasilievsky Island, a part of the city and on its western side (the same island was the scene of some of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's novels, notably “Crime and Punishment”). Smilov began drawing as a child, then studied mathematics. As for his interest in photography, it appeared at the age of ten, so he went to study photography at the “Palace of Pioneers” (an official institution sponsoring youth entertainment) under the supervision of the head of photography. Studio, Boris Efimovich (Abram Kaimovich) Redov, and he won many prizes in competitions for children, and then began to take professional photographs when he turned seventeen.

In 1968, he met Boris Gudryakov at the Photo Club of the Palace of Culture, who introduced him to Konstantin Kuzminsky's circle. During this period, he was inspired by Dostoevsky's Petersburg and, at Kuzminsky's request, informally took portraits of artists and writers.

After three years of studying at the Faculty of Journalism, in 1973, Smilov resigned from the publishing house “RSFSR Artist”, where he was replaced as a photographer by Olga Korzunova. During that period, he devoted himself to photographing ancient city scenes, some landscapes, and still life, using two cameras he owned: a Leica and a Rolliflex. Later, in 1974, he participated in the first independent photo exhibition called “Under the Umbrella” in the apartment of Konstantin Kosminsky, where he presented 34 photographs, distributed among landscapes, portraits and still life. But the exhibition was closed the next day, a scandal broke out in art circles, and Smilov was considered an undesirable photographer and his works by the authorities, which later made his participation in official exhibitions impossible.

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Therefore, until the period of perestroika, the photographer participated only in illegal “apartment exhibitions”, which were held in residential apartments or small studios. But in return, he exhibited his collection at the 11th Salon of Photographic Arts in Bucharest and received a gold medal. During the period of perestroika, Smilov began to actively show his works, and exhibitions were held in Russia and abroad in Britain, Germany, America, Finland, Norway and other countries. In 1991, he went to Washington, where he participated in the “Changing Reality” exhibition.

Some wonder why Smilo's works are included in the category of unofficial art, even if they contain something provocative that contradicts official policy.

The fact is that these pictures, with remarkable objectivity, reflected many aspects of the hidden life in the city of St. Petersburg, without additions or changes. Boris Smilov was able to capture popular festivals and holidays, factory workers or peasants farming the land, as other photographers did (not to underestimate the value of these types of images, as they were of high technical value). But he wanted to shoot other scenes.

We don't see many people in Smilo's films, perhaps because they don't have many elements. But she observes things with a professional eye and is capable of a sharp eye for reality. Although light and shadow, of course, played a clear role in what he did, apart from other elements, we see in more than one place some points of similarity between his photographic production and the plastic production of the famous American artist Edward Hopper. .

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Smilov froze to death on the night of January 18, 1998 on Vasilievsky Island in St. Petersburg. The reasons that prompted him to leave his house without winter clothes on a winter night in the city with an unforgiving frost are unknown. He was buried at the Smolensk Orthodox Cemetery on January 24, when he was only 47 years old.

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