If you think of fashion as something friskier, funkier, and more democratic than designer clothes on models and movie stars, fashion photography becomes more interesting, too. Style and flair aren’t luxury goods; beauty’s where you find it. And some of the most original fashion photographs were made unintentionally, by artists whose real interest is in people at their most vivid and idiosyncratic. One example: Nikolay Bakharev, a Siberian photographer whose portraits of Russians in and out of bed are included in “The Encyclopedic Palace,” Massimiliano Gioni’s widely praised International Exhibition at the Venice Biennale. Gioni introduced Bakharev to U.S. audiences in 2011 with “Ostalgia,” his show of contemporary Eastern European art at the New Museum. This summer, Julie Saul Gallery presents Amateurs and Lovers, the photographer’s first American solo exhibition. Although Bakharev, now in his mid-sixties, continues to take pictures, much of his work dates from the1980s and ’90s, when it was illegal to make or display nude photographs in Russia. He got around the law by taking his camera to wooded lakeside resorts, where families, friends, and couples, many of whom were wearing only their bathing suits, posed with an intimacy and openness that feels slyly conspiratorial. The charming threesome here, clinging together in the leafy shade, would not look out of place in the pages of a fashion magazine. The nubile nudes in Bakharev’s bedroom photographs are more provocative, but this casual ménage à trois makes one of fashion photography’s favorite fantasies believably real.
Nikolay Bakharev: Amateurs and Lovers, is on view at Julie Saul Gallery, 535 West 22nd Street, through August 16. **