Since Socialist Realism was proclaimed as official aesthetic doctrine in 1935, photography in the former Soviet Union had to be either functional or illustrative and documentary. Anything else, as far as it existed, was labelled "amateur photography". Parallel to the conceptual movement in literature and art in Moscow in the 70s, Boris Michajlov, in his Ukrainian hometown Khar'kov, began developing and utilising conceptual strategies in photography as well.

Boris Michajlov was born in 1938 in Khar'kov (Ukraine), where he also lives and works today. Initially, Boris Michajlov worked as a mechanical engineer in a factory in Khar'kov, until the KGB destroyed all his negatives in the 60s leading to his dismissal from the factory. Since then, Boris Michajlov is fully dedicated to photography. Today, he counts as one of the most important representatives of Russian conceptual photography, a so-called "Kabakov of photography".

Michajlov's nearly 30-year oeuvre is extremely diverse. He photographs himself and friends in stagings and studio sets; he uses anonymous material from family photo albums in his colourings and defamiliarizations; he "documents" the social depravity in the streets of Kiev and Khar'kov since the collapse of the Soviet Union; he tints the photographic print or adds hand-written notes. He always works in series, questioning the correctness of just one possible perception.

The exhibition at Portikus, which is also subsequently be shown at the Kunsthalle Zürich, presents for the first time a cross-section of his impressive oeuvre still relatively unknown in the West.

Photos: Katrin Schilling