Alexander Kitaev spoke of his trip to Paris in autumn 2006 as of “small model of death”. “I left the familiar and beloved St.-Petersburg for a strange, new and unknown space”. The well-known St.-Petersburg photographer, historian of photography and curator was invited to Cite Internationale des Arts, the House on the Embankment, as it is often called. In his letter from Paris Kitaev writes:

“There is endless downpour outside the window, and I can not complete my mission of landscape photographer <…> All I have made is just one exposure. Allright, it was really two exposures, excluding doubles. With thousands of photographs made around me within the same moment <…> Everything has been photographed, everything is familiar. I want to just enjoy the views and the atmosphere <…> What can we say of Paris if even in St.-Petersburg there are pits left by tripods at the shooting points in front of each architectural monument. It is here, in Daguerre’s motherland, that everything had started”.

Surrounded by the Babylonian mix of languages of the artistic inhabitants of the “House on the Embankment” of Seine, Kitaev dedicated most of his time to the writing of his text about Boris Smelov and to remembering of what had been experienced on the banks of the Neva. The photographs that comprise the series about the French capital, were made towards the end of his stay.

Kitaev’s Paris combines ivied ancient firewalls, narrow passages, bridge silhouettes, ramps on the embankments of the Seine, birds circling above the city. It is inhabited by the deliberately strolling nameless characters, couples of lovers, clochards roosting under the vaults of passage galleries. It is not the official façade of the city, nor is it its seamy side. The well known sites – from Notre Dame de Paris to Pompidou Centre – were not left without the author’s attention. Kitaev’s images have nothing in common with the mouth soring postcard views, the well known buildings become natural part of the whole, interlaced and equalized with the surrounding, more modest «inhabitants» of the city. Archway in the basement of the Eiffel Tower frames the Jena Bridge sculptural group, apse fragment of Notre Dame de Paris looks through the naked tree branches, Maillol’s nymphe in the garden of Tuileries covers her face with hand from the dazzling light of sun rising in the distance, above the Louvre. Sculptures come alive, man and architecture are equally important in this city portrait lacking any tinge of happening.

Alexander Kitaev’s manner is classical and rather austere. The historian of photography pursuing in his works the St.-Petersburg photography school traditions, continues the development of old masters’ visual language in his photographs included in the present exhibition.

“An artist’s task is to localize the space. To compress it to his own, or to completely subdue it. I am tired of subdueing!”, Kitaev wrote in autumn 2006. “But I do not want to be banal, either!”

There was, perhaps, a deal of fib in the photographer’s words of «going to Paris not to shoot but to write». With his extensive experience of perception and artistic re-evaluation of St.-Petersburg in its semiotic richness, the photographer gave himself time to get adjusted to his new character’s rhythm, mood and special qualities hidden behind the façade of primary significance.

Maria Gavrilchik