Named after Alexandr Sokurov’s celebrated movie, Calogero Russo’s latest monography is by his own stated intention a tribute. In fact the aim behind “Russian Ark”, writes the photographer in the introduction to his self–edited fanzine, is to lead the reader in a continuous stream of images, just like the single hour–and–a–half–long shot — cinema’s longest ever so far — that the movie consists of accompanies the viewer through the rooms of the Hermitage in Moscow.
But whereas Sokurov also makes us travel along a non–chronological history of his country, Russo choses to costrain the temporal references of his story to the sole Soviet era. And whereas the film gets around some of the classic limits of cinema taking advantage of technology, the book necessarily follows the natural constrictiveness of photography in the form of a collection of pictures. At a closer look, indeed, Russo shows a missing chapter from Sokurov’s movie, which jumped from the Tsars to present days bypassing Stalin years in a wispered shot.
Those of Russian Ark are fragments, then, unprecedented frames of a visual history that many have tried and still try to tell, and that Russo put together with the same interest and dedication, one would say affection, he has ever been reserved to former Soviet Union countries.
And maybe here lies the biggest difference between his and Sokurov’s point of view: although, just as Russo, the movie main charachter is a stranger, through his eyes the great director takes a position, even more moral than political, which spares nothing to Russia. The phantom of a self–devouring revolution is evoked not just by the title — the Ark as a metaphor of the rescue of both russian identity and european art and culture — but by the shooting technique as well: the single sequence–shot being the opposite of the editing that was at the core of Soviet era movie avant–garde (and propaganda).
Still, Russo’s work expresses the will of preserving a past that is although present against any historical logic, and that Russian Ark has the undisputed power to summon.