Lost Book: Untressed by Dima Smelyantsev

De Halskette, 1999

First off, I want to say thank you again to everyone who commented on my home decorating post. I haven’t found time to properly respond to all the helpful comments because I’ve been finalizing the move into that dream apartment I mentioned in the post. What I didn’t mention is that this dream apartment is actually in whole different country. More details on that to come! Incidentally, Mer is also moving to a another country on the other side of the world this summer. Coilhouse will soon be not just international, but TRI-CONTINENTAL. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, a short post about the lost photography of Dima Smelyantsev. Very little is known about him online. What I know of him, I’ve pieced together from what my cousin told me. He was originally from Russia, but lived in New York. He published one book, Untressed. The book contained vulnerable, fetishistic black-and-white portraits of women who had just shaved their heads (though, she notes, Dima himself had long, wild hair). My cousin appeared in the book, though she never signed a release. Sometime later, he died at a relatively young age – his heart just stopped. And with his death, the book gradually disappeared. The only traces remain on used book sites (on Amazon, a lone copy sells for $127) and on the graphic designer’s site. Thanks to the ever-useful Wayback Machine, I was able to find the original publisher’s page for the book, but that’s pretty much it. And that’s a shame, because I really enjoy the photo above. So admire it for what it is – a relic, your only glimpse of something that’s been lost to time.

22 Responses to “Lost Book: Untressed by Dima Smelyantsev”

  1. christiane Says:

    London at last?? :)

  2. Nadya Says:

    Christiane: SHHH… don’t jinx it!
    Co-editor who tagged this post “Hair” – Good call! Thanks.

  3. greenpencil Says:

    So which borough then?

  4. Tequila Says:

    I love hunting for books like this, though at least in this case it’s still relatively new enough to find in good condition. That lone shot does have a look about it I enjoy, may have to put in the effort to find the actual book now.

    It would be nice if for archival reasons books like this were somehow available in say PDF form (or something better.) While it’s great to have a physical copy and the rarity of limited print runs…it keeps some great artistic work out of the hands of many who would probably appreciate it more than collectors. I’ve known many in my years who literally sit on beautiful collections but never enjoy them for the sake of accidentally ruining them. So you have these untouched libraries full of gems that few if any will see.

    Ah, It’s good to hear you’re intercontinental plans are taking life!

  5. dubthach Says:

    the librarian responds to tequila:


  6. Tequila Says:

    @dubthach… Many thanks for that! Wow.

  7. christiane Says:

    My use of the question mark is protection against jinxing *nods*

  8. jesselmabus Says:

    @tequila…is what the librarian is good at and for…
    my pleasure to find that which is desired…
    and a good book to curl around is both…

    when you get the pdf scanned let me know!

  9. choklit Says:

    Hauntingly beautiful image. Tequila, if you get the book, will you share some more…?

  10. Tequila Says:

    I ordered the book this morning so it should get here sometime next week provided the world doesn’t end and all that. Looking forward to seeing what it holds really since I’ve only found small previews. Quite exciting really, rare one gets to order something without already having a good idea of what to expect.

    I’ll definitely share what I can. Last thing I want to do is step on any copyright toes. Though given the case I’m surprised someone didn’t put their copy up on flickr or something.

    What’s really curious is the print run…it said 4000 for the standard edition and about 350 for that beautiful slip cased edition. I wonder where it sold the most or if there is a stack sitting somewhere untouched and forgotten in a warehouse. Wouldn’t be the first time.

  11. DeusXMachina Says:

    @dubthach and/or @tequila

    Was there only one book in the inventory at that link? When I click it, it suggests I may have meant to search for “undressed”. Um….no.

  12. Tequila Says:

    @DeusXMachina….From what I know, yes there was only 1 in stock from that particular seller.

  13. Joanna DeVoe Says:

    Your blog is giving me information overload… can’t cram it all in fast enough, but believe me, I’m trying like crazy. Soooooo good!


  14. Joanna DeVoe Says:

    Also- thanks for the hot tip on Dima Smelyantsev- never heard of him.

  15. Tequila Says:

    The book arrived today, it’s stunning. Given the short span of time it covers the quality of work is remarkably high. We’re talking maybe 4 years here and the progression is visible but tied together by his solid use of lighting and B&W (sepia also.) It’s a vast mix of experiments, series, and explorations of themes we’re all familiar with only with a great attention to detail, shape, and shadow. Some of his best images are so simple in the set up that you easily get lost in details like the eyes, shadows on skin, textures of a face…more so since quite a few images have the models looking right at you. Even on a technical level alone one can appreciate them. His images have a warmth to them without feeling sentimental or cold…not easy to pull off with B&W sometimes. Definitely the kinda stuff I dig…

    I’m still going through much of it but this is easily the best $45 I ever spent….If you’re a fan of B&W seek this book out.

    I’ll try to scan and post some of my favs.

  16. Irene Says:

    well, you all have to know: Dima was the amazing and genius human being, I have a privilege of knowing him since he came to New York in 1989( he was my neighbour) till his untimely death. his life and his personality deserves a book written by someone as original and genuine like he was. I have his book with his dedication on the first page and I miss him terribly, he is irreplaceable and unforgettable.

  17. Fania Says:

    This guy was my best friends dad when I was growing up. he also shaved my first mohawk when I was 17. Back when I was like 19 he offered numerous times for me to be a intern at his studio but I declined because I was only into drawing then/a moron. There’s also a pictures of my mom in there, I believe. The reason I’m posting this comment though is because he did not just randomly drop dead, and it does actually bother me a lot that it does says that.

  18. Nadya Says:

    Fania, thanks for your comment. Please post a correction on what happened, and we’ll append the post. Thank you!

  19. Irene Says:

    Fania, if you can read this please get in contact with us, My name is Irene and my email is [email protected]. Thanks.

  20. Julia Says:

    Hello everyone. My name’s Julia and I’m Dima’s daughter. I can’t express how much it means to me that people are still thinking about my father and indulging in his amazing work. My biggest fear is that one day no one at all will know what a brilliant, out of this world person he was. It happens to be his birthday today; he would have been 49. Please keep circulating his book and spread the word about his unfortunately transient body of work. The universe has truly lost a beacon of ingenuity and immense talent. I hope that one day I can achieve such notoriety and popularity as he did and pass on his unique vision to future generations of Smelyantsevs and people in general.

    p.s. FANIA thank you for caring enough to post a comment here. I haven’t seen you since I was .. 7? What do you mean he didn’t randomly drop dead though… is there something I don’t know.. because from what I was told he had a massive heart attack and, well, dropped dead.

    p.p.s. thank you to all of my father’s true friends for continuing to support him after his loss. if only certain other people would do the same..

  21. Lina Says:

    I am Dima’s first wife, long time friend and Julia’s mother…..
    I am very, very touched by these comments and want to thank you all for remembering him, saying such a great words about him and his work. I’ve known him since age of 3 and I should say he was always a very unique person. I hope, he and his work will not be forgotten but will get more and more attention with time (thanks to all his true friends as Julia mentioned).

    P.S. Irene, Fania, thank you very much for your comments, it was nice to hear from you after so many years.

  22. Boris Says:

    I had a privilege of knowing Dima for over 20 years. I have the wonderful memories of the time spent together, his tremendous sense of humor. We were always looking forward to the meetings with Dima.
    He was an incredible person – humanitarian, artist, engineer, and workaholic.
    My hart and best wishes go to the people he left behind.
    I often look at the book he sold me before it has been published. I introduce it to my friends and the response is always overwhelming.
    RIP Dima.