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“Atomic Light/Stop Europe” opens at ArtPrint Photo Gallery

By Peggy Ebner

In the late 1950s, the Soviet Union founded Akademgorodok (Academy Town), a large scientific and academic complex in Novosibirsk, Russia. At its peak, it was home to 65,000 scientists and the world’s largest particle collider, but the end of the Soviet era in 1991 left the complex with a fraction of its original funding. Still in existence today, Akademgorodok contains a fully functional nuclear physics laboratory that retains a rainbow of Soviet surplus paint and equipment of the bygone mid-century era. Celebrated photographer Pablo Ortiz Monasterio shot a series of photos inside the laboratory after being invited by the Russian government for a cultural project of his choosing in anticipation of the Group of 20 summit meeting in Moscow. Ortiz Monasterio is an award-winning photographer, publisher, and founder of the Centro de la Imágen in Mexico City. He is well known for his street photography and powerful portrayals of Mexican culture. After proposing other projects based upon scientific and technological subjects, Ortiz Monasterio was turned down because the Russian government did not wish to divulge any scientific secrets. Then, when he discovered the brightly colored lab at Akademgorodok on his way through Siberia, Ortiz Monasterio proposed to photograph the lab itself and it was accepted. The colorful interior, he explains, is the result of utilitarian shipments of paint sent to the Siberian facility from Moscow. Because the lab was not a public space, any color would do to protect the metal and concrete from rust and decay. The effect is a combination of different colors, twisted wires, and unfamiliar equipment that lends the photos a psychedelic quality. His images capture an accidental aestheticism far removed from the stark white of Hollywood science. Moreover, they capture the ongoing perseverance of the team of scientists who work there. Despite the challenges in obtaining funding and maintaining equipment in Siberia, they continue in the pursuit of scientific advancement. The photos have been compiled into a book titled Akademgorodok, with text by Jóse Manuel Prieto and published by Conaculta. Signed copies will be available for purchase at the opening.

“Atomic Light/Stop Europe”
Fri, Oct 2, 7:30pm
ArtPrint Photo Gallery
Correo 46

The transition from the USSR to Russia and the Eastern Bloc was a difficult one for more places than Akademgorodok. This is evident in the work of Tim Murrah, a Texas-born photographer who became interested in photography and journalism at a young age. In 1988, he left Texas and traveled to Europe after establishing himself as a freelance photojournalist in Houston. Murrah began work in London, then moved to Germany, and soon found himself living in the newly freed Czechoslovakia. There he began to document his surroundings on his Nikon FM with an eye for the isolation and feeling of distance he found in the east after the fall of the Iron Curtain. Shot in black and white on whatever film he could find as he traveled, his images of frustrated graffiti (the title photograph “Stop Europe” is one such example) and the beleaguered residents of Eastern Europe capture the longing and difficulty of an era of sweeping social and economic change.


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