Boris Mikhailov, Former Foe of the KGB, Wins Spectrum Photography Prize

Boris Mikhailov, Former Foe of the KGB, Wins Spectrum Photography Prize
Tea Coffee Cappuccino 2000-2010
(Courtesy Galerie Barbara Weiss)

Ukranian-born photographer Boris Mikhailov was awarded the 8th Spectrum Photo Prize by an international jury on Monday in Hanover. The award, given every three years, carries with it a prize of €15,000 that is sponsored by the Foundation of Lower Saxony and an exhibition at the Sprengel Museum (Mikhailov's will be in 2013). Previous winners have included Martha Rosler, Sophie Calle, and Robert Adams.

“I became a photographer because I couldn’t talk,” Mikhailov, now 73 years old, said upon winning the prize, a reference to the oppression he faced during Soviet rule of his home country. In actuality, Mikhailov’s change in career path came when the KGB found nude photographs of his wife, causing him to be fired from his job as an engineer. Since then, he has come to be known as one of the premier photographers who worked during the Soviet occupation, with much of his work focusing on the collapse of the union. While many at the time heralded the newfound wealth and freedom of capitalism, Mikhailov sought to uncover new injustices that were cropping up as his society reinvented itself, turning to the homeless who in this new social order lost the safety net on which they had long relied.


Though he moved to Berlin in 1996, Mikhailov still travels for extended periods to his native city of Khakov. However, he began shooting Berliners in 2004, aiming his signature focus on the edges of society at the German capital. Mikhailov will have his first comprehensive retrospective in Germany at the Berlinische Gallery, opening February 24.

Looking forward, Mikhailov says he plans to produce a book, turning his gaze back to his home and to history, looking at the KGB through its existence, both material and cultural, today.