Finalist 2017: Sergey Melnitchenko
Virtually no photographer has got as close to the dancers at a Chinese club as the Ukrainian Sergey Melnitchenko. He was with them backstage, offering rare insight into life in the cheap entertainment business. His own experience as a dancer served him well. With great sensitivity, the images reveal the reality of a tough profession despite its frolicsome appearance under the spotlight.
Somewhere in China, at the crack of dawn after a long night’s work: sweating transvestites, girls in baths full of beer, drunk performers and an even larger number of drunks among the audience. Battered legs, feet worn down from dancing, fish-net stockings, the harsh light of the dressing room. Scratches and scars, many made invisible by the fact that they are engraved on the soul: all part of daily life in the cheap entertainment business for tourists and locals in China – though it could be anywhere, in fact. To deliver this kind of insight, it is not enough to be up close. Like Sergey Melnitchenko, you need to be part of the whole scene. His pictures reveal his experience as a dancer, grimy and in your face.
“There is no falsehood – it’s not staged, it’s their everyday life, our life, or rather mine.”
In his cinematic-style series, Melnitchenko does not focus on life in the spotlight, but rather on the backstage world of this kind of show business – with all its rough edges. The secret to his success is in the fact that he himself is involved as a performer. This is the only way he could have achieved such intimate images; images that give away more than many want to see. “I came to Asia two years ago to work as a dancer. In the spring of 2016 we performed in a Chinese club that was more like a huge bar with a stage, because none of the public were dancing. At some point I realised that so much fascinating stuff was going on there, and that’s how the ‘Behind the Scenes’ series emerged.”
Born in Mykolaiv, Ukraine in 1991, Melnitchenko has been taking photographs for around eight years. He is a member of Ukrainian Photographic Alternative, a collective promoting contemporary photography in Ukraine. He self-published his ‘Loneliness Online’ series in 2013. His work has been shown in various international solo and group exhibitions, including the Landskrona Fotofestival (2015), the Off_Festival Bratislava (2014), and in art book presentations within the framework of the artist residency The Muzychi Expanded History Project, Kiev, Ukraine. Melnitchenko has been living and working in China for the last two years.