Boris Mikhailov is one of the leading photographers of the former Soviet Union. Trained as an engineer, Mikhailov is largely self-taught in photography and his work was not widely exhibited until the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Deeply rooted in the history and political climate of Eastern Europe, his work documents the experiences of daily life with poignancy, humor, and empathy. His Case History series documents those left homeless after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Other series by the artist have taken on conceptual interests, including the color red and low viewpoints, both subtle means of pointing to Soviet rule.
Mikhailov took the 129 photographs that make up Cambridge Album when he was a professor in residence at Harvard University in the fall of 2000. The photographic album documents the artist’s daily experiences—his walks through the neighborhood, meals with family and friends, trips to the beach, and intimate domestic life. Mikhailov shot many of the photographs with low viewpoints and strong angles, as if holding the camera at his hip. He further distorts his subjects by closely framing and cropping them, capturing portions of bodies or landscapes with no visible horizon. These techniques force uncomfortably close views of the bodies and scenes. Mikhailov printed each photograph in a small, approximately three-by-eight-inch format and arranged them in the album. The juxtaposition of photographs introduces its own visual rhythm, emotional tenor, and individual experience of his time living and working in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
This work joins two other photographs by Mikhailov in the ICA/Boston’s collection from the Case Histories series, augmenting the museum’s capacity to share the breadth of his work. In 2004, the ICA presented Mikhailov’s first retrospective in the United States. Cambridge Album joins the work of other photographers also invested in the capacity of the everyday and of portraiture to be politically and poetically potent, such as Abelardo Morell, Nan Goldin, Shelburne Thurber, and LaToya Ruby Frazier.