The New Observer Arts Reviews Towards the Horizon – Emil Gataullin

Towards the Horizon – Emil Gataullin

This is a book of the photographs of Russian photographer Emil Gataullin.

Emil Gataullin came to public attention after he won the Alfred Fried Awards competition in 2014 with a photograph of two boys upside down on a swing. This photograph is included in the book. Emil Gataullin is based in Moscow where he works as a painter of frescoes. Most of the images however depict scenes from rural Russia. Gataullin trained as a painter at first in Kazan and then at the Moscow State Academy Art Institute.

Gataullin works primarily in black and white, though there are a handful of colour images in the book. His recent work appears to be more in colour.

These are superb photographs. The composition of the photographs is as near to flawless as is possible. The photographs communicate a vision of life which is tender, forgiving and sensitive. The text on the cover of the book, produced by Austrian publishers Lammerhuber, likens Gataullin to Cartier-Bresson. This is probably a mistake. A closer analogy might be to Russian poet Osip Mandelstam. There is a lyrical beauty to these photographs of ordinary life. Like Mandelstam Gataullin does not impose himself on the world. Like Mandelstam Gataullin does not appear to take overt political positions. After all; beauty is enough. Most of the images are of people. Though there are dogs and birds here too. No image could be strictly described as  a ‘landscape’ though there are images just of natural scenes. The world which Gataullin engages with is the human one. There is beauty and love here.

The images are sparsely captioned and offered without explanations. They stand alone and communicate on the visual plane without reliance on words. The images are distinctively about Russia. Some are taken in the Far East, others in the North West, or in the regions around Moscow. We could say this is the Russian soul being depicted here and in a way this is so inevitably. But perhaps there is no conscious intent to publicise the Russian soul. There is certainly much to photograph. Scenes such as a devout woman reading the gospel framed by the shadow of a Church cast on a wall behind her, or a boy peacefully asleep on a roof above two banners from an Orthodox procession – the crosses on the banners met by the cross formed by a TV aerial on the roof, two pilgrims asleep on the grass with their icons around their necks, all such scenes are distinctively Russian. As are the landscapes and images of vast tracts of land, or sea, taken in the Far East. But this is not a collection of photographs ‘about Russia’. Gataullin photographs what he sees.

Cartier-Bresson’s images are more reportage than Gataullin’s. With Cartier-Bresson there is profound handling of composition. Drama is frozen in a moment. We learn something about the subjects. Gataullin is more lyrical. His images are more mysterious. They are saying something, but what, exactly?

The book contains a small selection of colour images. The colour is handled as skillfully as the form in his black and white images. The colour is not just there because it happens to be in the scene – but has been subject to a process of artistic selection. The colour is absolutely part of the composition which gives the images their meaning. This is not easy to do.

The book itself is superbly produced. A decent size and the pages open very nearly flat, meaning that the images, which span both pages, are easily viewed. For a work of this quality it is priced at a more or less ludicrously low price.

Buy now on Amazon


If you don’t want to buy the book, you can view many of Gataullin’s images on his Flickr feed.