I was delighted to be able to look through the photographs of Victor Tretiak, originally from Krasnodar, Russia and now based in Bangkok, as my interests have leaned heavily toward the grainy aesthetic of analog film photography recently. But I was also drawn over and over again to his series Searching for the Whale, an exploration in black and white of scenes of eastern Russia. Shot on a Nikon FM2 and an old 'Soviet Union beast' of a Kiev 6C for square format, Tretiak explored areas of far eastern Russia close to the North Korean border, around Primorsky Krai and the Kamchatka Peninsula.
The series developed through a personal journey, an exploration of self, that Tretiak found himself on after college. Having finished university in Russia, he moved to Dubai in search of a better life -- Dubai, perhaps, because it was simply elsewhere. After three years in Dubai, he tried to go to London to study cinematography, but when plans fell through, he turned in the other direction, toward Thailand. At 26 and now in Bangkok for three years, he's retrospectively relieved that the cinematography gig didn't work out, as film photography has taken a central role in his artistic production.
It's clear after looking through Tretiak's series on his website that his style and presentation obeys the medium; his passion for photography has a simple premise: to make beautiful pictures. He prefers making individually strong images rather than devising complex concepts, but that, of course, is where I feel the richness of his images is made clear. Perhaps there is no philosophical questioning or elaborate art historical appropriation (or at least he doesn't think about it that way), but that's not important at all if an image has the ability to make a viewer feel something, and if the artist is able to share a vision--any vision, it's done all the more bravely if it's his entirely his own.
The series title, Searching for the Whale, is based on the story of the 52 hertz whale (there's actually a documentary slated for release in 2015 by filmmaker Joshua Zeman) which is an unidentified whale, first heard in 1989, that calls at an unusually high frequency of 52hz. The title relates to Tretiak's search for self, through connection to place and history. During our correspondence, I really enjoyed the way he explained it:
I kinda felt the same way as I had some struggles in life at that time. So I went I didn't know where I don't know why. Only later after I came back I realized I was looking for answers for questions I didn't know. This is where the name came from, searching for the whale is searching for myself.
As a whole, the series is powerful in its ability to render scenes as desolate, sort of peripherally experienced, as if along with the photographer we're seeing these places as an outsider just passing through. The shell of an old house, or of a dead dog, express the sort of emptiness that goes along with feeling as though one hasn't found one's self yet, or that we're in the wrong place. Nothing feels right here, so the need to move on to the next place is quite real, and to the next, in search of the one right place--even if it's only for a little while.
Just as Searching for the Whale expresses a period of searching and exploration, even sadness, other series reflect different circumstances, different ways that the artist sees the world at that particular time, assembled in different ways. It's worth a look at the artist's website, victortretiak.com for more images and information, as each series examines the capabilities of film photography in contrasting ways.