out of darkroom
A journey from film to digital photography
For thirty years Sergei Petrov has been on a journey. It is partly a journey through time and space - from his original home in Russia, through Western Europe and especially France, then to North America and his present home on Pender Island. But Sergei’s journey has also been aesthetic, pursuing images through media that have themselves evolved over this thirty-year span.
Sergei began working within the idiom of the classic tradition of photography. His image ‘Lady on the Red Square’ (1983) has rightly become iconic, reproduced internationally in many different forms and places. Rather than simply pursue further work in this idiom, Sergei chose to move on in his abiding ambition to ‘capture the moment.’ He did not confine his work to the techniques traditionally employed in photography but instead sought means of harnessing novel technologies in capturing and reproducing visual images. The growing possibilities opened up by the development of digital technology thus allowed him to pursue his aesthetic quest in new directions.
One obvious way in which Sergei’s work has changed, as his journey has progressed, has been a shift from representational to more abstract works. As well as the image in itself, the technical means by which it has been captured and reproduced has assumed increasing significance and depth. Works like his pioneering studies of mannequins illustrate this transition - in them the representation of the women’s bodies is in tension with the unique qualities of the medium used. He is painting with light in a new way.
In Sergei Petrov’s most recent work, made by hand with digitally-created textures (OBRAZ), the outcome is simultaneously an exercise in advanced technology and an expression of an acute aesthetic sensibility. But common to the whole progression of his career has been the same abiding ambition. Sergei still wants to ‘capture the moment’, but no longer a particular moment trapped in time and space but a moment that he has himself created through the evolution of the work itself.
OBRAZ (образ) Translates as 'image' but in Russian it also means 'order', 'method', 'organization', 'way' like 'Образ мыслей' = 'a way of thinking'. It also means 'icon' in spiritual sense, not just an image as object, but as a subject as well. In other words something that looks back at you when you look at it.
On this website OBRAZ is used to describe images made by hand with digitally-created textures, a unique technique that has no precedent and warrants a special name.
Born in Moscow in 1953, Sergei Petrov graduated from the elite Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology. His professional photographic career started in 1978 when Sergei left his position as a researcher in the Soviet defense industry and began working for leading Russian publishing houses. He photographed sculpture and paintings in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow and the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg.
In 1981 Sergei Petrov became a dissident, first coming to international attention in 1982 when he spent 50 days on a hunger strike trying to win permission to emigrate. While unable to leave the Soviet Union, Sergei completed a number of assignments for western magazines including Architectural Digest, Discover, New York Times Magazine, and Le Figaro. His photo journalistic work, critical of the old Soviet regime, appeared in The Washington Post and The New York Times. His image Lady on the Red Square became the symbol of a stagnant Soviet regime and was featured on NBC’s Today show and in many magazines and newspapers.
In 1988 an “in absentia” exhibition of his work was opened at the State Department in Washington DC by former US Secretary of State George Shultz. The following year Sergei was finally permitted to leave the Soviet Union, the culmination of years of sustained pressure from the US Government and, in particular, President Reagan and the US Ambassador to Moscow Arthur Hartman and his wife Donna.
His art was featured in American Photographer and The Washington Post Magazine. In 1991 The Corcoran Gallery of Art purchased his work.
In 1990's Sergei taught at International College of Photography
Since 2020 he has been teaching 'Photographing art in the digital age' for Graduate Skills Training Programme at Cambridge University, Faculty of Architecture & History of Art
Currently Sergei lives and works on Pender Island in British Columbia, Canada. He continues to pursue his passion for art along with his other interest in woodworking.
“Masterpieces of the Russian Underground”, Lincoln Center, New York, 2003
"Dress", permanent collection, The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 1991
“Abstraction in Photography”, Zabriski Gallery, New York, 1990
U.S. Department of State, Washington, 1988 opened by former US Secretary of State George Shultz
Duke University Museum of Art, Durham, 1987
American University, Paris, 1985
Spaso House, Residence of US Ambassador, Moscow, 1983
© 2020 Sergei Petrov