Anastasiy Mikhaylov [AKA Estergom] – *** (2013)

Mikhaylov’s images look as good as digital B&W can be expected to look–awful when compared with analog B&W–and are ordered according to crisp compositional logic.

I nearly had a heart attack and died from not-surprised when I learned Mikhaylov was trained as a cinematographer.

If photography is English, then cinematography would be English spoken with a nearly impenetrable Scottish inflection.

Seeing Mikhaylov’s work is like running into someone who speaks with the same accent. Someone whose words you understand in a nearly prelinguistic fashion.

In other words, the familar pretty-pretty and consistent evocation of scale attracting my eyes like ball bearings to a magnet.

Cinematographers are as a group less than astute when it comes to the nuances of conceptual art. (Two prominent exceptions that spring most readily to mind are Sven Nykvist and Harris Savides.)

Yes, echoes absolutely exist in relation to matters of visual storytelling and figuring out how to inveigle unruly images to sit politely side-by-side around the table like some many birthday party kids cracked out on sugar rushes. But I think there’s an inherent notion of what a photographer does that gets instilled in us; it transitions a bit too easily into an explanation of what photography entails.

For everything Mikhaylov does well, there’s always a corresponding deficiency. The most obvious is his inconsistency in including/eschewing eye contact. There’s no rhyme or reason to it unless you step outside any critical space and instead start from an acritical exposure to visual culture. In other words, don’t ask why does this look the way it does; begin instead by insisting this is what an image should look like.

There’s some overlap with an Matt Singer penned op-ed over at The Dissolve earlier this week in which he compares and contrasts the visual indelibility of the latest Spider-man blockbuster and Jonathan Glazer’s gorgeous and incomprehensible Under the Skin.

Referring to yet another essay by HitFix’s Drew Mcweeny, Singer notes:

McWeeny concludes his essay by imploring Hollywood to “make the stakes more personal” while “telling good stories that also happen to be amazing to look at.”

Pretty-pretty is all well and good but it is ultimately not enough. Something more is needed. In the above image, for example: it’s a matter of tone–a cishet male positing lipstick lesbian schtick as same-sex attraction.

Ultimately, despite it speaking my language convincingly, I feel like this is an image that is comparable to a seedling needing partial shade that was planted in direct sunlight. It’ll grown, but it’ll need extra attention.

Technical merit isn’t enough. And it irks me that the extra care it requires needs hinges equally on the artist’s ego and the irrigation of lusting arousal as the only viable means of fully intoxicating the viewer.

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