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“Images expand the world”

The Captors Of The Worlds: Anatoliy Ulyanov – why the world needs the stream of visual noise from cell phones more than professional photography.

To photograph on the streets of NYC is the same as to photograph aboard Titanic. The iceberg already happened, and the city with the alluring past, the city that still draws thousands of passengers, is slowly sinking.

Pimps in furs, colon enemas filled with champagne, and trains covered with inspirationally obscene graffiti – all of it departs from reality and becomes an echo, a saturated legend which New York City serves its tourists.

Just like John Waters, next to whom I am waiting in line for raspberries, this city has been long done with revolutions and leads a bourgeois lifestyle nowadays. Its Mayor Giuliani, who flooded the city with ocean of cops, licked out the graffiti and chased whores away from Time Square. He eliminated the nuisances that used to be a big part of the city’s bright cultural reality. Bloomberg’s era added more gray to the color palette: artists and freaks were substituted with bankers and clerks.

When the King of Downtown Michael Alig gets out of prison this May after spending almost 20 years there, he will find that it’s not the same NYC where one can dismember a lover and move on to a party. Tired out by vibrant chaos, actual New York retired and became quieter, safer and therefore more expensive. Such Vienna is good for the residents. But what’s good for the residents is not necessary good for the culture. A safe world is more convenient, yet less intense. In short, “this is the end” – as Jim Morrison sings, while yet another icon of the past, street photographer Clayton Peterson, is departing Manhattan: “I am not leaving the Lower East Side. It’s leaving me”. Daniel Levin, who filmed a documentary about Peterson, explains that “the city became territory of money, wealth and sterile real estate. This is not what traditionally used to make the city interesting”.

I came here at dusk and today I’m devouring the leftovers of past vitality. I had the same dream for two years in a row – that I was somewhere else, but not in New York. The very thought of it immediately made me break out in cold sweat, I woke up in the middle of the night to find out, that high on pot Caribbean kids still riding their bicycles outside my window. Now those dreams stopped. I got used to NYC and understood that celebration is about to end.

Today, when I’m attempting to leave the city and continue my journey, I still want to memorize my own New York, its last moments and sights. I want to take something with me, something that would be more sustainable than dreams and a wet heart. Here, at this place, out of this need, I begin to understand that words are traps and swamps. They don’t reflect reality but shape it within their own limits. And it’s ok. But if you want to stick a knife into it and cut out a chunk of flesh which will serve as a portal into any place of your world – visions work better as a tool.

I walk the streets of NYC armed with a camera, collecting my last broken pieces. It’s not just for me. I’d like to share New York. Especially with the world where I am from – the world where people who look alike walk the streets that look alike. I want to ship all these black, gay and kissing grannies to Kiev. All these avenues, buildings and cars. At least in the form of photographs – images expand the world.

If we put together all the photos made by men, we would end up with a whole new planet where all the people and eras exist simultaneously. Photographers create this sort of Frankenstein reality: patched with different pieces of fabric, yet forming a common visual territory that allows anyone to travel no matter borders.

Don’t listen to those who talk about genres and composition while protecting their self-announced monopoly on art. Everyone who picks up a camera and captures an image creates a documentary about themselves and their reality, in one way or another. Your life is your only unfinished novel, an untold story that wants to be told. Every photo is the only proof of your readiness to express yourself; product of the heart that dared to show up, jump out and start beating.

Perhaps not every heart is noticeable. But every act of its reveal is the moment of escape from emotional prison imposed upon us by traditional society. Thoughts of the novelty and esteem of each and every photo are just fears, which sole purpose is to restrain the ascending impulse, to slam you back in the corner where you can exist as a “normal” and “productive” citizen.

In this sense, I have to disagree with those who complain about waterfall of the visual noise that originates from the idea that in our modern world every passerby is entitled to take a photo. That’s great it can. And it doesn’t really matter if this photo will be hung in a museum or at your kitchen. Through this photo one will be able to feel and teleport themselves into a different world, just by glancing at it.

Film or digital, big camera or just a cell phone – none of it matters. What matters is the personal joy of being alive and follow your own paths and desires. If New York taught me anything at all, this is it.

Translated from Russian by Viktoriya Gryb for Bird In Flight (April, 2014)