Sergei Vasiliev
In the inside of the USSR
4.12 > 13.2.2016

He looked inside, without stumble. In a banja, the Russian sauna, telling the joyful intimacy of a group of women. In a swimming-pool, following the emotion of a delivery in the water or the elegant vaults of mermaid girls. In a prison, where the detained show with pride their tattoos.
Sergei Vasiliev, born in the 1937 in Čeljabinsk, small city under the Ural Mountains, is one of the most famous photojournalists of the Soviet era, having worked for thirty years in the local newspaper and having a long lasting experience in the jails.
Since 1948 he worked with Danzig Baldaev in the tattoos classification and in decoding their meaning, often focused and addressed against the authorities. Every drawing speaks about killing, theft, drug dealing. Every symbol is a military grade to identify boss and subdued. But besides the backs, the arms, the legs, the breasts, entirely covered by sacred and profane figures – from the Church of St. Basil to the holy triad Marx, Engels and Lenin, from Saint Michael and the dragon to Alexander Nevsky – Vasiliev almost touched with his camera even the skin of the women, extremely soft and white as the snow. The scene is in an inner space, not a prison cell, but a sauna in a winter morning. Outside, the temperature is many degrees below zero, inside is the heat of naked and flourishing bodies in the magnificence of youth. Not a minimum embarrassment at the sight of the photographer. Everything looks natural, sensual, the sweat sliding on the skin, laughing, intimacy, and finally the water refreshing the bodies. Another step and the women get into the water, one with the newborn baby, one other swimming as in the open water of the sea. It’s all about in the beginning of the ’70s. Six years before, in 1964, Čeljabinsk registered the first nuclear disaster, similar to the one in Cernobyl. Nobody knows anything about it. This time the wind blows eastward pushing the radiation clouds beyond the Ural Mountains. Instead, both the described reportages, Banja and Nascita, these images of infinite beauty, reach the west in 1977 and in 1981, winning the world Press Photo. When the USSR falls, the photos of the tattoos appear, published in the volumes of Russian Criminal Tattoo, Fuel Editions. The Russians have written their stories on the skin, which is the only private property in the Soviet time, stories of violence, protest and infinite beauty.

The images come from the important photographic collection owned by Francesco Bigazzi, journalist and writer, news correspondent in the USSR since 1985 and director of Ansa at that time. He is one of the most experts on the political dissent in East Europe and he dedicated many volumes to this argument.


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