The visual journey of Rafal Milach's self-published book Black Sea of Concrete begins with the cover: a front to back, full-bleed photograph of a painted mural of the Black Sea. Although the wall art portrays the warmth of the sea and sky, there's rust bleeding through the cracks in the concrete canvas. The enclosed series of photographs shows the southern Ukrainian coastline, an area frequented by vacationers from around the Soviet Union, and yet, Milach chooses not to present the beautiful seaside view marketed as the Crimean dream.
Though Ukrainian soil is fertile, explains the book's opening statement, the substantial 'crop' of abundance is concrete, strewn in geometric blocks along the coastline. Milach then takes us on a tour of the sombre Soviet-era architecture which makes up the landscape bordering the Black Sea, and shows his subjects in the concrete omnipresence. A lone fisherman framed from inside a seaside building makes him appear trapped in a concrete window. A solitary walker stands on a series of empty concrete bleachers set up to view seaside-swimming contests. A uniformed guard stands authoritatively on a broken concrete pedestal of a communications towers, seemingly protecting the viewer from the sea which waves at his back. Turning through the pages of Black Sea of Concrete, local life is revealed amongst the man-made edifices.
While the dark blues and blacks in the photographs produce a feeling of weight, the 76-page book is still physically light in the reader's hands. Similarly, Milach's views often place a serious gaze at light-hearted topics, or vice versa, pairing or upending contradictory emotions. The closing image exemplifies the contradiction, showing a rough sea crashing over a crumbling concrete pier. Though it might be a typical emblem of man versus nature, the context of the image adds an additional bitter pill, pointing out the futility of the holiday ideal of domesticated nature.
Black Sea of Concrete is available for sale directly from the artist.