The greatest challenge is to see


If we asked ourselves what media technology is the most popular and widespread nowdays, I think the answer would be unequivocal – photography. It is difficult to find a more accessible and popular form of visual expression than the photograph. In terms of media practices, our period is likely to go down in visual art history as the century of popular photography.


Everyone takes photos, and everything is photographed. For this, it is no longer necessary to have a stand-alone camera – any mobile phone or tablet‘charged’ with necessary technical abilitycan take good pictures. Everyday life for the modern individual hasceased to be private, due to this availability of photographic technology,combined with social networks where the captured images can be immediately put on public display, available for an infinite number of users. It is possible to get your glory for not just15 minutes, as Andy Warholsuggested, but for 15 hours. On top of this, social networks designed solely for the placement and distribution of the photos, such as Instagram, offer special effect filters toenable images to appear professional.



The lives of humans have beenabruptly bared – to hell with privacy – almost every inhale-exhale is seen by mobile gadgets and spread into the network universe. The images of food, clothing, hairstyles, body parts, gatherings and tomfoolery, not to mention the epidemic selfie with its ‘viral’ narcissism – thesephenomena can be characterised as a mass cult of ‘decent exhibitionism.’ And, of course, in such a situation there is the danger of the devaluation of photography as an art form. The saddest fact is not that the number of ‘photographers’ with the necessary apparatus increased suddenly, but that modern technology allows an untalented person to choose a pair of good images from hundreds of pictures taken.


Following all this, a special role and responsibility falls on the shoulders of true professionals, who have laid their conscious experience on the altar of this craft. Increasing their work requirements ten-fold, they become beacons of the art form, preventing the sincere lovers of this art from being lost in the general stream of bad taste and quasi-aesthetic mayhem. One such strong professional is the Azerbaijani photographer, Sanan Aleskerov.


Aleskerov is a representative of the older generation of photographers. Some particularly exalted followers and admirers of his work name him as a living classic and consider him as ‘the father of Azerbaijani photography.’ This is a hintofthe respect and recognition his talent will inspire amongst subsequent generations.


Aleskerov witnessed the period of Soviet rule in Azerbaijan. Moreover he grew, formed and was educated in the Soviet period, explaining to some extent his serious and thorough attitude to the craft photography. In contrast to the huge number of contemporary photographers, he thinks that taking a photo is a monumental work, not entertainment. Working in various genres, techniques and formats, Aleskerov demonstrates an adoration of his hometown, Baku, to which he has devoted a huge body of work. I remember that a few years ago, Sanan advised one of his able pupils to make a series of images dedicated to Sovetskaya Street. He motivated his pupil by saying that buildings on this street, along with structures on adjacent streets, will eventuallybe demolished. He said that pictures taken there will have an enduring value as historical records. The prospect of demolition was little doubted, but few thought that the time would fly by so fast, and we would live to see the dismantling of the old houses in this street. As such, the works of Aleskerov capturing Sovetskaya Street will now gain that rare status he once predicted.


There is no doubt this old and seemingly unattractive street, as well as many other similar nondescript streets, will be transformed in accordance with the new urban plans. Baku city, as the capital of Azerbaijan, cannot entirely enter into the new millennium with ‘architectural load’ of the past. The ‘architectural load’ relates to a huge number of old residential buildings and structures that have no particular historical or cultural value, and have a use which expired long ago. Yet, the demolition of houses is always a painful process for residents. It is doubly painful for historical memory, which does not want to have blank, white pages. It is well known that for the preservation of the memory, the crucial role is played by newsreels and photo or film evidence. Here again, we come to the inevitability of photography as the most relevant of media outlets. Not reckless, narcissistic pop pictures, but a thoughtful, singular photography.This is the sort of art that is ‘preached’ and developed by Sanan Aleskerov in his creative laboratory.


Aleskerov presents three photographs dedicated to the Sovetskaya Street. What is their focus? Aleskerov’s centre of attention is doubly framed to indicate the subjectivity of the author, the elements he is interested in and the elements he wants to draw the viewer's attention to. It is of course hard to put accents inside the frame of a picture, in contrast to painting and drawing, because the cold and dispassionate photographfixes everything with the same indifference of a camera lens. In other words, all points on the surface of the image are equal. But in Aleskerov’s photographs, we see how he manages to framewithin the frame; each picture leads the eye along a certain track - the hues andchanging tone of the composition highlights someone, immediately drawing our attention. Theartist places the object of his interest into the work’s centre, framing that centre to distinguish it further andadd the doubleaccent. This suggests that the photographer really wants to draw our attention not just on what he and his lens looked at, but in fact what he saw.  It is easy to look, but it is hard to see. To see, the special energy of attention is required. The impassive and cold lens of Aleskerov fixes the image, and photographer himself highlights what he truly saw. As such, the picture becomes not just a neutral chronicle, but a living testimony.



© Тeymur Daimi