“Valery Katsuba is a master of aesthetics, and he describes the human body with the precision and elegance of Praxiteles; but within each of those beautiful bodies, he finds a beating heart.”
The exhibition The Romantic Realism of Valery Katsuba opened at Contemporary Gallery Kunming on June 17, 2023, featuring 34 works spanning two decades of this leading Belarusian photographer’s career.
As the writer Andrew Solomon notes, Valery Katsuba does something marvellous in his elegantly arranged figure compositions. This thing, once spoken of the aura that any great work of art should possess, is the magic that draws us to Katsuba’s pictures. And, however we choose to describe it, in his photographs this “aura” exerts a very immediate effect on the senses. It is exactly for reasons of those beautiful bodies, which dominate the frames with their powerful physical presence, that Katsuba’s visual language has ready appeal for all who encounter his pictures. It speaks of a very human desire, the yearning within us for a perfection that we know we will never attain for ourselves. At least, not in the usual flow of a quotidian life.
What sparks the immediacy of Katsuba’s photographic expression is the striking, often unexpected combination of bodies and environs. In the grand tableaux he conceived for a series featuring gymnasts and ballerinas in juxtaposition with various iconic works of art, the elegance of the figures is accentuated by the drama of their surroundings; stage-like settings that we recognise as the once-common nineteenth-century majesty of grand museum halls or similar architecturally ornate spaces. We marvel once again as we read the beauty the photographs parade, the tension between perfection and power that reverberates across the picture plane.
Katsuba’s images are clearly staged and thus have a conscious aura of performative distance about them. Yet, are we drawn into the world he presents to us. Katsuba points the way, because even though it is obvious from motifs in the photos, like the figures’ expressions, the precision of their postures, and the calculated ornament of the settings that this world is unmistakably Russian, its aspirations, together with its indelible seam of romance – are ones all peoples share in common, no matter who we are or where we are from. As in all great Russian literature, this presence serves to posit delicate questions as to the nature of change between differences eras of time. Human emotion is the very core of our existence.