The photographer who captured the radical 1980s underground Russian ‘Soviet Rock’ movement
The studies of Russian youth subcultures have fascinated countless Westerners for years. One man, photographer Igor Mukhin, knows more than most when it comes to the underground culture scene of Russia and everything the kids did to get their rocks off.
With reels of film stashed away, Mukhin decided to unleash his images into his new book I’ve seen rock ‘n’ roll, transporting us all the way back behind the Iron Curtain, through Mikhail Gorbachev’s Communist Russia and into the punk rock we see today in the shape of the famed Pussy Riot.
Fittingly, Mukhin’s series of images dating back to a 1985 beginning, a time when Gorbachev introduced his policies of glasnost (“openness”) and perestroika (“restructuring”) to the Soviet regime. In doing so, he opened up a door to the previously suppressed rock and roll subculture of the country that had been out in the cold.
Documenting every process, Mukhin said he picked up his camera “in the middle of the 80s,” while detailing his story to Dazed. “I found myself a witness to the tremendous changes taking place in the USSR. At the time, we had no idea how the world looked beyond the Iron Curtain. We watched edited films in theaters; we picked up glitchy rock-n-roll on the radio through Voice of America or the BBC. It was impossible to see contemporary photography in the Soviet Union’s lone photo magazine, Soviet Photo. But I felt that the time of ‘change’ had come, and I needed to go and shoot.”
When the time came to producing his book, Mukhin was met with uncertainty at what would come from the reels of film: “Sitting down to work on a new book thirty years after the images had been made, I was curious to look through the archive again. I hoped to find “new” pictures, situations, characters,” Mukhin said of the book. “I must admit, no new discoveries turned up – all of the best stuff had been spotted back then as I was bringing out the film strips in a bowl of fixer.”
He continued: “In the photo book itself I wanted to showcase a range of statements and sentiments possible in the closed society of the 1980’s – without the Internet, exhibitions, photo books, lectures, friendships, contacts and schooling.”