No. 63, From the Relationship series, 1991-'93 Gelatin silver print 11 3/8 in. x 11 3/8 in. (29 x 29 cm.)
Was there anything that wasn’t forbidden in the Soviet Union? In the 1970s, when Nikolay Bakharev started taking his gorgeous, moving portraits of Russians relaxing in swimsuits, it was against the rules to circulate any images with bare flesh in them. And, of course, it was illegal to take and sell them for money, as Bakharev did, since that was private enterprise. Even stripping down at all was tightly controlled: “The beach was the only place where people were allowed to bare their bodies without provoking a negative reaction from the Soviet society at the time,” said Bakharev.
His swimsuit shots are on display in Ostalgia, an exhibition of art made behind the old Iron Curtain, and in the countries that came out from behind it after 1989. It is now filling all five stories of the New Museum in New York. Like lots of the art in Ostalgia, Bakharev’s pictures gain a special poignancy and power because they weren’t even supposed to exist. To see other works from Ostalgia, visit Blake Gopnik's The Daily Pic.