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Alexey Titarenko’s photograph of St Petersburg, 1995

Alexey Titarenko, photographer, on his photograph, Untitled (Woman on the Corner), 1995

GB Tell me why you chose this.

AT Firstly, I should explain that for me, art is not science and is not based on intellect (science and history, including history of the art, as a part of science – are.) Beauty in art is based on sensibility, involuntary memory etc, so it’s something that is not only very personal, but is constantly changing for each person. You may consider something as beautiful today and not beautiful at all after a certain time. Beauty is something that you feel, a particular feeling of disinterested pleasure or enthusiasm that is suddenly born inside you.

I like the image that I chose, because it translated a feeling I had a long time ago when I was staying on that corner of St Petersburg. I felt I had created an appropriate visual metaphor that could also recreate this feeling in the hearts of people other than me.

GB You’ve talked about listening to Shostakovitch while looking at your pictures. Is there a particular piece of music that you would like to people hear while looking at this picture? Do you think that adds to the beauty of it? Or does it serve another purpose?

AT  Yes. Not Shostakovich, Johannes Brahms’s Violin Concerto. And within this particular concerto a very particular couple of second’s musical phrase. I prefer the David Oistrakh recording. And within this concerto the particular phrase, it is between 9.55 and 11.05. The phrase itself starts at 10.17 or 18 then follows a development that ends suddenly at 11.05. I wouldn’t say that it adds something, we are not in mathematics, but it helps to recreate this particular feeling of enthusiasm or euphoria, that we can experience through any of our senses when we encounter something beautiful.

GB Is beauty something you deliberately set out to achieve in your work?

AT  Yes. As Beauty is something that is felt by all of us, I definitely try to achieve feeling (initially for myself and then for others) when I’m starting the process of creating a picture. In this case, the negative was the result of a situation I encountered on the street.

GB Did you feel at all conflicted about creating beautiful work from a city that was going through so much suffering?

AT  I believe that our everyday notions of ugliness and beauty do not have a direct link to what beauty really means in art. In art the feeling that you are in a presence of beauty may be created by anything, for example by a smell of old spilt gasoline or the noise of mosquitos. And in this world, on this planet everybody, regardless of how much he or she is suffering, is still able to find some of this happiness – and maybe people who suffer a lot deserve it even more, need it even more. So I would say my answer is the exact opposite of your suggestion.

GB Can the beauty of this work play a role in inspiring empathy for the people of St Petersburg? Can beauty serve a political or ethical purpose?

AT Yes, it can. People like what makes them happy so in this way a beautiful image inspires empathy and love towards the subject matter represented in the image. A beautiful image may also be of use for any number of other purposes: religious, political, ecological, whatever they may be.

GB Could you take a picture of New York that would be as beautiful as this one to you?

AT The subject of beauty actually doesn’t matter, beauty may be created from anything – from New York, why not?

GB Jason Stanley chose one of your pictures for Gilded Birds partly for the moment in intellectual history that it represents. Do you have any comments on his interpretation of your work?

AT I believe that the kind of visual metaphors I’m using make my images more general, give them the possibility of a much broader interpretation, some kind of link between the present and the past and perhaps the future.

GB What makes something worthy of the word Beauty to you?

AT The word ‘beauty’ is used so frequently in such a wrong way that it is almost better not to mention it at all.

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