As a photographer, Milach strives to capture realities of everyday life in Russia and other former Soviet republics as authentically as possible. His first-person narration style is straightforward, without significant interference into the subject or setting.
Documentary photographer, associated with Sputnik Photos.
Milach's best-known project is the 7 Rooms series, which paints a collective portrait of thirty-somethings in Putin's Russia. He spent several years on the project, establishing contact with several young people across Russia then slowly getting closer to them, entering their lives and their homes and ultimately capturing that experience with his camera. For Milach, his subjects are both his heroes and his friends.
There is no sensationalism in images of people such as Stas, a journalist and a "real Siberian bear" from Krasnoyarsk or Vasya, a drag queen living outsideYekaterinburg. In addition to six very personal narratives of 7 Rooms, there is a seventh chapter dedicated to the reportage of Svetlana Alexievich, whose book War's Unwomanly Face reveals stories of women who fought in Ukraine in the Second World War . Other fragments are from Alexievich's book Enchanted with Death, which tells stories of people and their experiences after the Soviet Union fell. The project's seven chapters refer to "the metaphorical baggage of the generation born in the USSR", showing spaces that are both dismal and pleasant, reaching beyond stereotypes of poverty and kitsch to show a nation torn between traditions of the past and consumerism in the present.
On completing the project, Milach said, "In Russia, there are a huge number of paradoxes. Sometimes it seemed to me that I understood some of them, only to find that my next trip proved that I was mistaken". He has also said that "The more I tried to understand Russia, the more lost I became. Russia is like a planet of its own."
In an interview with modernphoto.eu, Milach explained:
It is hard to tell where I got that passion for the former Soviet Union from. Something draws me to it. Maybe this is because I have got some family near Baikal, in Kaliningrad and in Belarus. My grandparents come from the borderland. I am really fond of the mentality of the people there. They are frank, spontaneous and straightforward. It feels like home whenever I’m there. Even back in New York I felt best in Coney Island among Ukrainian and Russian Jews. I could talk to them in Russian. This is just something that is rooted in the back of my head.
Milach was born in Gliwice, a city in the south of Poland, in 1978. He graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Katowice in 2003 and the Institute of Creative Photography (ITF) in Opava, Czech Republic. He was invited by the photo agency VII in Paris to take part in the Altemus training program for Eastern and Central European photojournalists in 2004. With ten other Central Eastern European (CEE) photographers, Milach created the photo collective Sputnik Photos in 2004, to document, promote and spread knowledge on transition issues in CEE countries. His upbringing in Poland under communism sparked a fascination with political and social change which, as he said in an interview with modernphoto.eu, shaped his "view of the world as a photographer. Never mind if it’s the descending Silesia or young Russians living in post-soviet Russia".
Milach's work has been exhibited in Poland, Finland, Spain, Japan, China, the U.S. and Ukraine. He has received awards for his work that include the Photography Book Now Grand Prize in New York, the Grand Press Photo Prize and the BZ WBK Press Photo Prize in Poland, the World Press Photo Prize in the Netherlands, and The Guardian Weekend Photography Prize in the U.K. Today he lives and works in Warsaw.
black sea of concrete
In 2008, he received first prize in the Grand Press Photo competition and in 2011 he received an honourable mention in the Magnum Expression Award Competition. In 2008 he received first prize in the Grand Press Photo competition and in 2011 he received an honourable mention in the Magnum Expression Award Competition. In 2013 he was among the 10 laureates of Magnum's 2013 Emergency Fund grants, which allowed him to continue his Winners project, set in Belarus and giving viewers an intimate look at the "last dictatorship in Europe".
At the 2012 edition of the Month of Photography in Bratislava Milach's 7 Rooms were announced the best contemporary books in the CEE Region this year, along with two other albums published by Sputnik Photos - Stand By and Distant Place.
About his style of photography, he says the key to his craft is filtering his subject through his own consciousness to find a novel, distinctive perspective on an object or issue, even if it has been portrayed by dozens of photographers. "It's about finding something interesting for us", he told modernphoto.eu, "something we want to speak about. I believe there are no bad subjects, there are only bad productions".
For more on Rafał Milach, see: rafalmilach.com and www.sputnikphotos.com
Author: Agnieszka Le Nart