Groups and Locations (Moscow) 2004 is a series of photographs that Manchot took at historic sites in and around Moscow. Their relationship with Russian history lies not only in her choice of particular locations but also in the composition of the photographs. For a country spread through Eastern Europe and Central Asia, photography in the mid 19th century played an important role in the Russian people’s comprehension of what their vast lands and its inhabitants looked like. Figures were often positioned in prominent groups in the foreground of the part-topographical, part-ethnographic representations of Imperial Russia. Groups and Locations takes this particularly Russian photographic form as a cue for structuring contemporary group portraits that are similarly striking in the intensity of a collected group staring, their looking focused into the camera.
To make these images Manchot set up her camera at public sites inviting passers-by to stop, face the camera and become part of a spontaneous group. The people shown in Groups and Locations were consciously agreeing to participate in and act out a moment of intervention. In a culture where photography is still viewed as problematic and is restricted or even prohibited in designated public spaces, the participation of the passers-by and the resulting images develop a political charge.
The current preliminary bill restricting protests and demonstrations in or near public sites of political importance adds to these photographic performances a real interlinking of contemporary Russia with its history and the capacity of photography to engage with this.