Interview by Marta Gnyp
Boris Mikhailov is one of the leading and most celebrated artists to have emerged from the former Soviet Union. Through his rebellious nudes and formally and ideologically disturbing photo series, the Ukrainian photographer has observed and analyzed the political and social mechanisms of Soviet society from the inside. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, he shocked the world with his photo series Case History, in which he mercilessly showed the invisible tragic spectrum of post-Soviet society and its individual victims.
Marta Gnyp: Lets start from the very beginning. You got interested in photography while you were working as a young engineer in Kharkov in the Ukraine, at that time one of the republics of the Soviet Union. Where did you work?
Boris Mikhailov: I started to work for a military factory that produced equipment and machinery for the space technology industry. At that time I didn’t understand quite well what the factory was doing. It was a closed enterprise and specially monitored. Already then, I was attracted more by art than by anything else.
MG: Did you get a chance to get into contact with something more artistic?
BM: I was encouraged to make a film about the factory. It happened that that place was connected to [Ukrainian and Soviet educator and writer] Anton Makarenko. In the 1920s, he collected homeless children and set up a labor colony in Kharkov where the FED camera was produced. All this happened in and around the factory. While making this film, I understood that I couldn’t show this material to anybody, because it was not in accordance to the Soviet propaganda. And then by coincidence, I got involved in photography. I was 28-years-old when I took my first photo, and it felt good. This was a picture of a girl on the street with a cigarette in her mouth. At that time the girls were not smoking on the street, it was not done. I was amazed. I was attracted by this other, not official, reality.