Winners Exposed: Roman Pyatkovka

23rd May 2013

Roman Pyatkovka, Ukraine, 1st Place, Conceptual, Professional Competition, 2013 Sony World Photography Awards

“The subject of Soviet life and the images created back then are still waiting to be studied and conceptualised,” 2013 Sony World Photography Awards Conceptual Winner Roman Pyatkovka says. “In this series, I try to reimagine the past, freeing the memory from the dictate of the visual symbols of Soviet reality.”

The image series juxtapose ideological glamour with real life. On the one hand, Pyatkovka brings in visual communist clichés, including an astronaut, tractor driver, collective farm director, a seamstress and Pioneers. Overtop these images are deliberately simple, amateur photographs of nude women. “They were ordinary women, who stood in lines, hauled around bags full of hard-won groceries, joined us for vodkas and lived in overpopulated communal apartments,” he explains. “But they were also the women we were friends with, the ones we dated, fell in love with, and married.”

Through these images, Pyatkovka wishes to reflect social relations and study life’s various facets. He explains, “a contemporary artist is a blend of the social and the personal in exact proportions.” Instead of focusing on the common post-Soviet debate of communist history, Pyatkovka studies and reintroduces photographic evidence of the period, shifting the focus to emotional provocations and social dramas. 

“My name for this method is Memory Art,” he explains. “I suggest letting go of the purported credibility of a captured fact and rewriting, reimagining events through the prism of personal experiences. With this series, I offer the viewer to re-experience key moments of our past, and thus find the present.” 

On the whole, Pyatkovka’s art explores personal relationships in various social environments. He explains his approach to photography as turning “a realistic photograph into an epic installation” using “individual shots like puzzle pieces to create a single picture, a single exhibit-worthy organism.”

This approach is largely a result of his initial entry into the field of photography. Beginning his studies in the 1980s with the Kharkiv School of Photography, Pyatkovka explains his entry was that of an intense desire to be an artist within hostile circumstances. As the school had no state support or official recognition, the artists were forced to turn to private spaces for their creations. “Our tiny apartments, our personal and even intimate life became the proving grounds for our art,” he explains. Lacking high-quality equipment, materials and formal education, he explains photographic art was made more intellectual. “Our existence outside the socialist context critically distanced us from the Soviet art system and the political structure in general.”

In addition to his recognition at the 2013 Sony World Photography Awards, Roman Pyatkovka’s work is highlighted in permanent collections throughout Russia, Italy, Germany and the USA. For more information on Pyatkovka and his works, visit his website here.