Some of the photos, at first glance, look like covers for tawdry novels or posters for b-grade horror films. They have that look of something that has been heavily retouched. There are almost no shadows. The facial expressions seem a little unreal and the details, such as horns and pig noses, or ghostly faces must have been added later.
Saint Petersburg-based photographer Andrey Kezzyn begs to differ. He says that he meticulously creates each scene and does no alterations afterward. “It’s very simple. I don’t use Photoshop; it is a natural photograph. I am very technical,” he told the Prague Post. He attributes the style to several things: a good camera, a lot of assistants and helpers, good lighting, and good preparation.
You would think he would have accumulated an arsenal of equipment for such detailed work, but that is not the case. “I am one of the photographers that does not have a camera. I always chose the camera that I need for any specific job. I use Canon, Nikon and Phase One. I always rent one,” he said.
One photo shows an aged blue man with white hair and a sword made of ice. The sword is plastic, of course, as ice would melt in the lights. The blue face and hands were makeup that took more than five hours. As with the lighting, Kezzyn works with film technicians. The various monster faces are “plastic makeup, the kind they use in films,” he said.
Several themes become apparent from his work currently on display at Galerie Vernon. The most obvious is people in uniforms. There is definite suspicion and lack of respect for those claiming to be in authority. Nazis can be seen at some sort of party in a basement, lounging haphazardly in chairs while a woman poses wearing uniform pants, an officer’s cap and a ball mask. Her participation does not seem to be her idea. The picture is like a still from a movie, inviting you to invent a story for what went before and what will go after. None of the possible stories is a good one.
In another painting, four people in surgical gowns are covered in blood spatters and have a blade for a circular saw. The gowns have drawings or teeth on them. This evokes many people’s deep fear of the dentist. A similar scene with some medical professionals is a Hieronymus Bosch-like image of what seems to be an insane asylum.
Some uniforms are recognizable from history; others are more ad-hoc, suggesting a militia in a post-apocalyptic, post-industrial setting. All of these are like scenes from films that will never be made.
The best of the uniform pictures by far is his parody of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper. A bit of knowledge of Russia helps in catching the finer points. The assembled people at a long table are all in the uniforms of the Russian state police, with one exception. The person is the place of Judas has the uniform of the highway patrol, a notoriously corrupt group of people always looking for a bribe. The various bottles of liquor strewn across the messy table include one from the perestroika era, for vodka that is 96 percent alcohol. The man in the center where Jesus Christ should be looks more like he is experiencing an alcohol-induced blackout than a moment of religious ecstasy.
In a nod to Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code, one of the apostles is a woman – but that is another illusion. It is actually a rather convincing transvestite.
Children, either being scared or being some force of evil, are another topic he returns to. One of the most effective photos shows a young girl snarling and reaching straight out of the canvas on which the photos are printed. Behind her stand more than a dozen people with ghostly black-and-white makeup. It is a nightmare image that one should not get too close to.
Another stand-out shot shows a single young girl running down a dark country lane, a look of terror on her face. What she is terrified of is not shown. Again, one could construct a whole screenplay around the image.
With all of is photos, the viewer needs to pay attention to the details. Some fashion-style photos show elegantly dressed ladies in some retro-style gowns. Each has at least one dog. The gowns, on close inspection, are dyed burlap sacks.
All of the photos benefit from the expressive face of the subjects. “They are real people. They are not actors at all. They are just very enthusiastic. They like my work and they work with me for free because it’s fun,” Kezzyn said. “They get together and they are very different. One man in many pictures is a landlord. He owns several apartments. [They are] drivers, plumbers, anything.”
He also has no method for finding ideas. “Sometimes I’m inspired by people when I see their faces, for example. Sometimes I have this idea of something I don’t know and one day after a couple of years, the idea comes through and I really see it. It’s always different,” he said.
Inspiration also comes from famous painters and popular culture. One photo is influenced by Gustav Klimt. Others make nods to Game of Thrones, the Harry Potter series, films by Wim Wenders, fairy tales, religious icons, The X-Files and various horror and sci-fi books and movies.
He does sometimes work with more famous people, and his picture of the cult band The Tiger Lillies is perhaps his most circulated. “They were coming for a concert last year and it was funny. The concert was on the 19th of November, and it is my wedding anniversary. I decided to write to their manager. They saw some pictures; they liked the pictures,” he said. Taking the photo took about 10 minutes. But the setup took at least a month. As with many of his shots, he built all of the props by hand. For The Tiger Lillies, that included an electric char, fake wiring boxes and even the accordion.
The band wanted to use it as an album cover, but that turned out to be impossible because the record label wanted alternate versions and angles for posters and other publicity. Kezzyn always shoots just one shot of the scene he creates.
A few days after Kezzyn was in Prague to promote his show, he made another portrait of the band when the group returned to Russia with a new tour. That picture is on his Facebook page but is not part of the current show.
By Raymond Johnston