This intimately produced book offers a small but well-edited selection of Nikolai Ignatiev’s powerful work. The book opens with an introduction by Magnum photographer Gueorgui Pinkhassov, one of Nikolai’s closest friends, and closes with a text by his wife Juliet Butler – both rendered all the more poignant by the fact that Nikolai died last year.
Painting with Light was not intended to be the last ever publication of Nikolai’s work and I am sure I am not alone in thinking that it is very sad that it has become so. I was lucky enough to work with and be a friend of Nikolai, and I will always remember him as a great photojournalist as well as a fantastic dancer.
Faith and passion are the chief concerns of this richly produced book; the stories are well-built and interesting and some have never been published until now – such as the Velikaya River pilgrimage, a personal favourite of his. Though we are treated to an amazing colour palette, some of the printing – notably in the image of the little girl’s face against the window – doesn’t do it justice. But the shots themselves are dreamy. As we travel with Nikolai through some of the most beautiful areas of the world, to the Kumbh Mela festival in India for example, we see it through his wonderfully journalistic eye.
The absence of captions sets the imagination free, allowing the pictures to speak for themselves; their function aesthetic rather than following a narrative development. As for the book’s title, it leaves me with a rather bitter taste. I feel it is so often the case when photos are extremely good, they have to be compared to the art of painting – an unfair and diminutive comparison, I believe. We are lucky to have these beautiful pictures to remember him by. He is greatly missed.