• Their faces are the very image of a blank expression. Perched high on a heap of sand, the two beach-going women in Igor Savchenko’s “Untitled (4-90-22)” strike a pretty pose for the close-up. To the photographer, however, their physiognomy means less than zero. Savchenko styles his models not with powder puffs but with razor blades, and he's fed their faces to Glad bags.
  • This scene is one of many stunning images now at the biennial FotoFest, the international photography exhibition—America’s largest—running throughout Houston until April 29.

Helmed by Fred Baldwin and Wendy Watriss and curated in partnership with Evgeny Berezner and Natalia Tarasova, of the “In Support of Photography in Russia” Project, as well as Irina Chmyreva, of the Russian Academy of Fine Arts, FofoFest 2012 centers around Russian photography since the late 1940's.

The picture above, the first in a series called Faceless, conveys a sort of gulag humor typical of its contemporaries. Of all art forms, Stalin watched photography most closely, and his regime remains notorious for doctoring out of public photos the dissidents it made disappear, as though it could wipe them from memory. Savchenko's junk editing job makes an effigy of their hubris and burns it brightly.

Such lampooning may not be rare for the lax Perestroika, when Savchenko took the photo, but his methods are just one way of witnessing history. To get a broader picture, take in over a thousand other photos from the post-Stalin "Thaw," the Perestroika, and the new generation of post-Soviet artists. Many of these works are appearing in public for the first time, and it is a landmark opportunity to view Russia from both sides.

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