Soon after the young Danish photographer Keen Heick-Abildhauge first came to Russia in 2009, he became sure that the common European understanding of Russians as «a nation of sullen and unfriendly people» could be wrong. Keen gradually arrived at an idea of creating an integral art project that could convey his impression of this country. It took three years for the project to be completed in a series of a hundred black-and-white photographic portraits of Russians aging 1 to 100 years.

The Danish photographer went to many places in Russia, spoke with the people he pictured and wrote down their stories. Each photograph in the exhibition is accompanied with a short text indicating profession, social status and dreams of the character. There is a 33-year old fireman from Sinegorye settlement in Magadan region who hopes to make a photograph of his daughter with a white bear on Spitzbergen Island, a 59-year old woodworker from Novorossiysk dreaming to learn to use the Internet. A 82-year old excavator operator from Vologda region dreams of creating a family, and an elderly woman (100 years old) from Smolenskaya village just wants to live on. The majority of people on the portraits dream about the revival of the country, increase of their salary and pensions, about being healthy and being able to travel.

One Hundred Years. The Russian Portrait may seem a meager sociological research that meticulously captures faces of different ages according to a strict rule, one person per one year in the century. However, the name of the project already gives us a deeper understanding of the material, with 100 years being not only the age of the oldest of the sitters but also the hundred year period of Russian history, the whole past century pictured in faces. Life itself, year after year, each impersonated by a man or a woman, filled with dreams and hopes, forming the history of the people and the country.

The author tells us about these people in a simple and clear language, with the background and details in the picture emphasizing their position of profession. The objectivity seeked by the photographer is supplemented with photographic honesty: he shoots with a Leica, persuaded that «people should be photographed only with the equipment that had been tested by the time» and he does not edit the photographs.

According to his own words, Keen's rejection of retouching comes from his long-term experience in advertisement. This could be also the starting point of his sympathy to the work of Helmut Newton who Keen refers to in every interview. Newton was the one to import realistic features into the traditionally artificial genre of fashion photography. In his staged photographs elements of real life acquired grotesque, hyperbolic and often provocative meaning but still remained realistic.

One Hundred Years. The Russian Portrait continues the tradition that started in the late XX century with the introduction of portable cameras that allowed photographers to start shooting outside their studios. In France, Eugene Atget and Jacques Lartigue created chronicles of Paris life while in the USA, Jacob Riis and Lewis Hine were the first to use photography as a means of visualization of social processes. The development of photography went by the path of documentation of the material, leading it away from the art. According to the German photographer Albert Renger-Patzsch, one of the ideologists of a the New Objectivity movement, it was suggested «to leave art to the artists and try to implement the medium of photography for the creation of images that would keep their place in the history because of their photographic qualities». The aiming at the objective reflection of reality, that found its formal expression in simplicity and strictness of composition, sharp focus, rejection of far-fetched angles and artificial illumination, provided the basis for the appearance of true and persuasive images of contemporary reality and determined fundamental principles of documental genre that bloomed in the 1920s – 1950s.

Keen Heick-Abildhauge's project is a unique social research, a view on Russia from the outside, materialized in the images that fall within the classical tradition of documental black-and-white photography. And at the same time it is an interesting conceptual work where portraits of different people, theirs thoughts and dreams become random projections of time, and, put together, form «frame-by-frame recording» of the 100-year period of Russian history.

The current exhibition at ROSPHOTO is the first significant event in the artistic career of Keen Heick-Abildhauge. In future he intends to show his project in Moscow and to further share his vision of Russia with the audiences in Denmark and England.

Curator: Maria Gavrilchik

With the support of Ministry for Culture of the Russian Federation, Danish Cultural Institute in St Petersburg and Royal Danish Consulate General in St Petersburg