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David Franchi – Sunday, 9th November 2014.
“Russian Criminal Tattoo Police Files” is an unusual exhibition by Arkady Bronnikov at the Grimaldi Gavin Gallery, London. This exhibition is a selection of photographs which subjects are the tattoos of Russian prisoners. Photographs were taken by Arkady Bronnikov between the mid-1960s and mid-1980s.
For over thirty years, Bronnikov was a senior expert in criminalistics at the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the USSR. Part of his duties involved visiting correctional institutions of the Ural and Siberia regions, where Bronnikov interviewed, gathered information and photographed convicts and their tattoos, creating one of the most comprehensive archives of this phenomenon acquired by FUEL in 2013.
The Bronnikov collection consists of 918 images. It was made for police use only to further the understanding of the language of these tattoos and to act as an aid in the identification and apprehension of criminals in the field.
The idea of Bronnikov was to record the body for practical purposes. This is reflected by the photos which are not of exceptional quality, but they looks like more a documentary. Not limited by the artistic side, these vernacular photographs present a frank representation of criminal society. The photographs unintentionally betray their human side disclosing evidence of prisoners’ character: aggressiveness, vulnerability, melancholy, and conceit. The bodies of the prisoners are telling a secret history using tattoos, including also scars and missing digits. The prisoners are a sort of cast nowadays, not neglected at all but living in a separate condition, and rarely acknowledged before.
A selection of photographs, alongside official police papers authored by Bronnikov from the Soviet period, will be published by FUEL in two volumes, the first to be released in conjunction with the exhibition in October 2014.
It was the first exhibition organized by the Grimaldi Gavin Gallery, London. The unusual collection had a press view the last 16th October, at the new space of the Grimaldi Gavin Gallery, in Mayfair, London. The gallery was packed. In the middle of the evening Tracey Emin popped in accompanied by friends and paid a quick visit to the show.
Russian Criminal Tattoo Police Files is at the Grimaldi Gavin Gallery, Mayfair, London, until the 21st November 2014.