Nailya Alexander Gallery is pleased to present City of Hidden Lives, on view online Monday 1 March through Saturday 3 April. This unique online exhibition mingles the work of Alexey Titarenko (b. 1962, St. Petersburg) and Pentti Sammallahti (b. 1950, Helsinki) with verses by the Finnish poet Bo Carpelan (1926–2011) and the Paris-based poet, translator, editor, and zheng harpist Fiona Sze-Lorrain to explore the singular relationship between the photographer and the city, particularly during the season of winter.
City of Hidden Lives explores the pervasive feelings of solitude and deprivation that people have experienced during this pandemic winter and offers a space to share those feelings through photography and poetry. While both Titarenko and Sammallahti are renowned for their work in cities and regions around the world, from Venice and Havana to far-flung regions of Asia and Africa, both have long been anchored in the cities where they were born and currently live and work. This exhibition includes Titarenko’s photographs of his native St. Petersburg in the 1990s, as well as his recent photographs of New York, where he has resided for almost fifteen years; and Sammallahti’s images of his native Helsinki, a subject to which he has always returned throughout his fifty-year career. In their work, the city is often a silent, solitary place: both birds and people wander alone or in small groups, dwarfed by buildings, trees, and waterways, against a backdrop of ice and snow. Yet in the midst of this quietude and desolation is a sense of serenity, and even intimacy; as Carpelan writes, “All’s silence, / all in balance.”
This sensation is achieved not only due to Titarenko’s and Sammallahti’s deeply felt love for their cities but also through each artist’s unparalleled gelatin silver printing process. A master printmaker, Sammallahti produces subtly textured prints whose broad tonality brings out the gentlest nuances of Scandinavian winter light; while Titarenko’s prints—combined with the effects of intentional camera movement, long exposure, and partial solarization—create an aura of magic and luminosity that is accented by selective toning with sepia, selenium, and gold.
The visual poetry of Sammallahti’s and Titarenko’s images is complemented by the written poetry of Carpelan and Sze-Lorrain. Carpelan, like Sammallahti, returns repeatedly to the motifs of coldness and ice and the solitude and harshness of winter; while Sze-Lorrain invokes the whiteness of snow and the questions of time and memory that also animate Titarenko’s work.
In the work of all four poets and photographers represented here, one theme remains the same: that of hope, and the transformation into a season of light, warmth, and rebirth. In Sammallahti’s work, this theme is most strongly expressed through the life-affirming, even playful presence of birds and animals; while in Titarenko’s, this theme emerges inevitably from a strong sense of the passage of time and of the power of light. In the words of Carpelan, “sooner or later / the ice will melt, / the sky will clear / and we’ll go on together. / Patience!”