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Yura Taralov
Photography Yura Taralov

These photos explore a fascination with bodies and their functions

Photographer Yura Taralov brings an ‘energetic and chaotic’ approach to his curious portraits toying with notions of flesh, nature, and memory

“Every family has its joys and its horrors. But however great they may be, it’s hard for an outsider’s eye to see them,” wrote Chekhov in his 1886 short story, Difficult People. It’s an apt sentiment when considering the work of Russian photographer Yura Taralov, whose work disparately probes the intimate childhood memories – both good and bad – that reverberate throughout his life; the formative family experiences that continue to shape how he sees the world in adulthood.

In Taralov’s peculiar images of contorted bodies, the natural world, and curious miscellaneous materials, an outsider would know nothing of the amber locket gifted to him by his grandmother, or the coldness of his family kitchen after it bore witness to violence against his mother by his father. But it’s the colours and emotions of events like this that inspire him – whether in the tender warmth of a portrait’s palette, or a grey, sullen photograph of a half-built house. 

“It’s a dialogue primarily with myself… A reflection of my past and an amalgamation with the present,” Taralov tells Dazed. “I still look at the world through the amber locket. But at the same time, I relive that incident in the kitchen.” This duality is important to him, and he makes a point of fusing joy with horror – using rich, sunny hues to convey discomfiting scenes. Shards of glass scattered beneath bare flesh, or subjects coated in thick, stodgy dough. 

Taralov, who is based in Murmansk and has spent most of his life living in the Arctic Circle, is interested in how the children we once were still exist, somewhere, inside of us. Not just by way of memories, but impulses, emotions and curiosities. In his creative process (which might take place anywhere from his apartment to the middle of a field), “I feel energetic and chaotic, like a child who’s stayed home alone and knows that at this moment, they can do anything they want,” he says. “I look at what surrounds me: paper, pencils, flowers, macaroni, band-aids… I begin to play and conduct experiments, combining one thing with another, uniting what in ordinary life we might not have combined.”

“I feel energetic and chaotic… I begin to play and conduct experiments, combining one thing with another, uniting what in ordinary life we might not have combined” – Yura Taralov

A fascination with the human body is central to Taralov’s image-making, but one that is different in nature to much the nude photography we see – often desexualised or even de-eroticised, instead emphasising the organicness of our bodies. He likens the process of image-creation with his subjects to a “game,” channeling the unabridged curiosity we have as children about body parts and their functions; the inclination to explore ourselves and others before we become restricted by learned notions of “vulgarity”. Sometimes this is messy, yes. But it is natural.

As children, Taralov seems to suggest, we are closer to our primal nature. We have yet to learn – and become inhibited by – social customs and cultural constructs, and this is something to be cherished. As such, the natural world is a recurrent theme in his imagery, repeatedly relocating the body and the self in the context of nature: scattered soil, roots sprouting, tree branches withering and decomposing. “Essentially, [nature] serves as an indicator of something real and unfeigned,” he says. “A confirmation of the sincerity in what’s happening in the frame.”

Alongside his explorations of family and childhood, Taralov’s oeuvre muses on life, love, aging, and death. Ultimately, he hopes his images can compel viewers to think about who they once were and who they are now; how the joy in our lives can counteract the horror, and all of our transient experiences on Earth before nature does its thing – and we return to the soil from whence we came. 

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