Stas Namin is an unusual talent. I have known him and his work for many years. I met him in a creative environment and was amazed at his knowledge and love of Rock n Roll. He is a musician, an impresario and a master photographer. His compositions and subject matter are very unique and Stas is a superb artist. I have some of his photographs in my collection and am happy to know that Stas Namin's name and work are quite popular in New York. He is a very accomplished and serious artist.
As the saying goes “There is always some idol to worship”. For the last twenty years we have worshipped Bart – the idol of photography. Without quoting Bart now and again any author writing on the subject of photography feels as insecure as one facing a pack of hungry wolves. In a word nowadays photography is looked upon as servicing art, and the more often a photographer is in demand in this capacity the sooner he will be able to induce the public to look upon himself as a true artist.. In short only the select few can afford to indulge in the art of photography just for the sake of natural picture taking. There are two types of such photographers: the first one is Candide – or simple-minded and the second one is a fearless person not to be frightened by anything or anyone. Both of these approaches are united in the works of Stas Namin. He took up photography after having made a name in an absolutely different field. He is a successful self-sufficient person who has made a hit in music and show-business. At the beginning he produced an impression of a novice in photography, a “seventh-day artist” as Frenchmen would say: he simply greatly enjoyed everything that had anything to do with the art of photography. When he began to take an interest in photography he was carried away by that art, he was in raptures, he enjoyed every minute of it. More over his temperament which can be defined as risky, passionate, vital made him go on and on and never stop. He put his heart and soul into it and he wanted his photographs to reflect and to display what he was experiencing at the moment of taking pictures. And that has worked!
Let us define the sphere of Namin’s activity. He definitely does not interfere with the optical and chemical process: no doctoring with the negatives, prints etc. He never uses what is known as the “arranged image” that is imitation of natural situations with the help of special effects, putting up performances, using decorative scenery. He does not care for social documentation or impressive casualness.
What he really cares for is “the crucial moment” – the definition he himself has invented. Quoting the great master for him “photography is simultaneous recognition (within a second) of the expressiveness of what is taking place at the moment and of immediate realization of the facts that make the event so expressive ”. That may be taken as a general definition of his method. Namin is aiming at finding some emotional meaningful contacting link of events. As soon as he finds his contact he takes a picture and that’s it. There is no need of computer processing or cutting. The color does not need any tricks of special developing. Even the subject itself no matter how trite and postcard-like will impress you by its originality and unexpected freshness.
Like Ceasar he “veni, vidi, vici”. He likes to use wide focus lens, the so-called “fish’s eye” as if teasing his more sophisticated colleagues and instigating them to do the same - to see and recognize.
Of course, it’s not that simple. Namin is not a hunter following and watching his prey for days on end before he can find a natural situation worth taking picture of. He doesn’t play a magician either, there is nothing mysterious or unnatural in what he is doing. His method is the result of some definite development of a creative person. And in the first place it implies culture. The culture of recognition that in its turn implies a lot. First of all he takes a certain stand with respect to the object of photography. He recognizes it as something closely related to himself and takes it as something familiar and that’s why he looks upon it with warmth and sympathy. But what is there behind this process? To my mind every artist has his own idea of the world. Evidently Namin’s view of the world rests on emotional tactile feelings that later are transformed into adequate optical visual forms. V. Rozanov made a very good definition of the artists of this kind. He called them “feelers”. Namin probably is feeling the world. Like in a children’s game: “Cold – warmer – hot!” That’s his individual method of recognition.
The lenses are focused on the famous idols of Easter Island. The natural situation is clear, aimed at; (the stone idols themselves ideally organize the space around) the artist checks the range, the angle, the composition, the optical and chemical factors are as always at hand. But all these are only preparations, they are preliminary efforts to make creation possible. What really counts is not only the natural, the definite but the inner world, the artist’s consciousness. And the latter implies a lot. For the people of our generation (Namin’s and mine) the mythical stories of Easter Island in particular and Thor Heyerdal’s voyages in general were at one time real and virtual, in other words inaccessible. The idols and the natives of Easter Island entered the typical homes of Soviet teenagers as compensation for that “lack of the real” which Lakan, who had coined this philosophical definition, had no idea of. As for us we suffered from this lack not only virtually but experienced it every day of our lives with the invincibility of the Soviet frontiers, the codes of behavior, the taboos, the customs and traditions. Then suddenly – the recognition, the accessibility of the inaccessible, the implementation of the impossible. There was something unreal about it. To crown it all – he had a chance to meet Thor Heyerdal: he was lucky to get to know the man, to talk to him, to travel with him. That was the real purpose of visiting that tourist haunt. So the “recognition” was not entirely simultaneous, there had been much preliminary work – the energy of overcoming, reunification with what has already been alive unconsciously for a while, may be even…
Take for instance the views of Manhattan taken from a helicopter. Those skyscrapers have been photographed many times by many people. Is it still possible to find anything original about them? Namin proved that it is possible. In his panoramic views of New York one clearly distinguishes the natural plant-like origins. Central Park looks like a pond, the houses around it remind one of squares of arable land.
On another photograph the skyscrapers are like trees looking like a trick forest in the background an like lonely trees standing apart and making way for the wonderer to walk through in the foreground (among them the notorious twin towers of the WTC which somehow make you wonder about their future. But it’s another subject – phenomenology of photographs, in other words the strategy of looking backwards). To my mind his photographs of New York are original in their attempt to draw a parallel between the natural and the man-made, an attempt to stress the similarity between the two.
In my opinion the most successful set of Namin’s photographs are the snapshots of a pregnant African woman (there are also pictures of a pregnant African woman and a pregnant young Russian woman in the same photograph).
These pictures are really beautiful. The choice of objects of photography is original and fresh, Stas Namin trademark – emotional tactile feeling is used to the full. The woman seems to be constantly stroking her belly with a protective gesture, the composition is so skillfully made that her eyes seem to be repeating her motions. The bodies of the two pregnant women look very similar to some curious African musical instruments made of pumpkin or bamboo. The models seem to be constantly listening to what is going on inside them, to the music of maternity. So the feeling tactile factor is supplemented by a sounding factor. As it had been mentioned above the picture of the world that Namin is trying to show through photography is based on his feeling tactile factor. That seems to be an excellent basis for erotic pictures. As a matter of fact he willingly takes pictures of a naked body. At the same time he is not peeping, but he is trying to mould, to sculpture, to emphasize the plastic lines of the body.
Many pictures of the Cuban set are made along the same lines, especially a set of pictures the subject of which is a woman on the sea shore. They look like monumental sculptures with an abundance of flesh which brings to mind the energetic totem idols of the ancient past. Personally I believe that it was on the island of Cuba that Namin has made the best photographs so far. The spontaneous (not staged) expression of the “crucial moment” is amazing. The handsome joyous provocative Cuban woman in a short skirt and white sneakers looks very natural. The skirt is climbing almost to her waist she seems to be bursting with vitality of youth. The woman is laughing, and an old woman is looking at her with envious reproach. The background is a very natural (not staged or programmed) combination of a film shot of Marylene Monroe (from Billy Wyder’s film “The Seventh Year Itch”) standing on a subway grating while the hot air is fluttering her skirt and the famous photo of Judi Dater (“Imogen and Twinka at Yosemite”) where a similar situation (this time staged) is shown – a naked woman in the forest near a tree and an old woman staring at her in dumb amazement.
Stas Namin has already done a lot in the field of photography. He was a success in the “recognition of the expression of reality” (Cartie-Bresson), all the while recognizing himself in the course of the process. The expressiveness of the American city festival at Halloween (the red color of the dress-ball clothes is so impressive that you begin to believe the “futurists” who held urbanistic landscapes for a separate art); the expressiveness of the praying people in the Jewish quarters of Jerusalem; the expressiveness of sculptural “stony” faces of the aborigines of Easter Island. Stas Namin skillfully captured some glimpses of reality - like an African pregnant woman or the Cuban scenes. I have no doubt whatever that they will always be associated with his name using the post-Soviet cliche he kind of made them his property. I am absolutely sure that Stas Namin will keep on along the same links of associating himself with the objects of his art and he is bound to be a still greater success in it.
I believe that photography is one of the most mysterious and even mystical inventions of mankind. A film can record a flow of life in time, whereas a photograph stops time. It takes out of a life a fraction of a second, an unpredictable moment. This moment may turn out to be a more expressive and truer portrait of nature or a person than say, a moving picture. A photographer intuitively presses the button, however, according to the theory of infinitesimal quantities, he cannot control which particular moment will be captured. I am above all interested in this inexplicable phenomenon - hence I am not that keen on the technology of the process. I rely more on a chance, an intuition, the subjectivity of style.
I do not take much interest in setting “perfect and posed” pictures. They seem to lose something unique and spontaneous - the life itself. I value most photos where art and document are naturally interwoven. It is impossible to repeat such shots, as “it is not possible to enter the same river twice”.
The mystical essence of photography lies not only in bringing time to a halt but also in borrowing a fragment of life. It can also be an impulse of energy or information, which may at any time restore that very same moment at a subconscious level that unites time and space. This may be the explanation for the ability of people gifted with an extrasensory perception to find, with the help of photos, missing people, cure or alternatively put the evil eye on others. This is why there is a popular belief of not allowing strangers to take pictures of newly-born babies until they grow stronger, as if their energy could be stolen and their immune system yet unprepared to protect the child could be broken. In this respect it is important what kind of person is behind the camera, with what “aura” and “eye”? The photographer, like the doctor should be pure in spirit. I feel the same about painting, poetry and music.
I photograph only what I find beautiful. My choice is dictated by versatility of life. This may be anything - landscapes or portraits, nature or abstraction. It seems strange to me to single out or ignore one particular style or theme.
Whatever I photograph, at the moment of shooting I feel some concentrated warm energy filling up my lungs. Quite often at the very moment of pressing the button I feel as if I have stopped breathing and have physically merged with the object.
For me, photography is a means to approach and cultivate beauty.