Saturday, June 27, 2015

Seven Decades of Soviet Photography Through Pictures

In the 1920s artists were intoxicated by the ideas of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution and believed the new era required new media and mass production. Deviating from the straightforward reportage photographers began to experiment with photomontage, constructivist compositions, unconventional framing, tilted views, and close-ups.

Photography became the most important artistic and propaganda tool in shaping the collective consciousness with the purpose of creation of a New Soviet Man. This resulted in a multitude of commissioned works featuring beautified images of heroic men and women, cheerful pioneers, abundant produce as well as glorified depictions of the Soviet military might and achievements of new economic policies that led to prosperous future under the leadership of the Great Stalin. Socialist heroes became the stars of Soviet publications and cinema; they were loyal to the regime and exhorted the audience to emulate their example.

Bathing Homeless, 1927
Born into rural poverty in 1898, Arkady Shaikhet was just 19 years old when the Russian Revolution shook the world. After serving in the war, he honed his technique of ‘artistic reportage’ to document the building of the USSR, and founded the magazine Soviet Photo in 1927
Photograph: Arkady Shaikhet/Lumiere Brothers Center for Photography

The Hands of a Manicurist, 1929
In the years after the founding of Soviet Photo – subtitled Photo-Reporting and Amateur Photography – many artists focused on developing a photographic series, such as this one on hands by Arkady Shaikhet
Photograph: Arkady Shaikhet/Lumiere Brothers Center for Photography

Technology Decides Everything, 1930s
Diagonal shots and bold cropping are some of the characteristic techniques used by the infamous left-wing photography collective, October. Their motto was ‘new times demand new forms’
Photograph: October/Lumiere Brothers Center for Photography

Youth, 1937
This photo by Boris Ignatovich shows how later photographers shifted towards socialist realism, which stipulated images had do more than just depict reality – they had to show the communist ideal
Photograph: Boris Ignatovich/Lumiere Brothers Center for Photography

Dietary Eggs, 1939
Alexander Khlebnikov founded the Innovator Photography Club and was a pioneer of still life photography. This image of a plate of eggs is one of a number he took throughout the 1930s of household objects – from fabric to pumpkin seeds to milk bottles
Photograph: Alexander Khlebnikov/MeduzaLumiere Brothers Center for Photography

The Enemy, 1944
With the outbreak of world war two, photojournalism was enlisted in defence of Mother Russia. In this photo by Anatoli Egorov, who was wounded in action, corporal Stepan Vasiljevich Ovcharenko shoots at enemy troops with a machine gun
Photograph: Anatoli Egorov/Lumiere Brothers Center for Photography

Meet the Winners, 1945
A master of Soviet photography and colleague of leading painter Alexander Rodchenko and pioneering filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein, George Petrusov captured the elation of the crowd at the end of the second world war. Rodchenko said of Petrusov: ‘He’s like a sponge that absorbs everything about photography’
Photograph: George Petrusov/Lumiere Brothers Center for Photography

Concrete Factory, 1954
After serving in the second world war, Vsevolod Tarasevich went back to photography, working for Sovyetsky Soyuz, Ogonyok and Rabotnitsa magazines, as well as Soviet Photo. Much of his work is concerned with the virtues and achievements of science and technology
Photograph: Vsevolod Tarasevich/Lumiere Brothers Center for Photography

Perfume No8, 1958
This picture, the eighth in a series on perfume, shows Alexander Khlebnikov’s move into fashion and advertising photography in the 1950s
Photograph: Soviet Photo/Lumiere Brothers Center for Photography

Start, 1959
Taken from an article about the production of a new camera model – the Start – by Vladimir Stepanov
Photograph: Vladimir Stepanov/Lumiere Brothers Center for Photography

In the Physics Lab, 1960
Anatoly Khrupov was another photographer of the ‘physicist-lyricists’ behind the achievements of Soviet science. Here, he photographs a technician at work in the lab of Vilnius University in Lithuania
Photograph: Lumiere Brothers Center for Photography

The Twelfth Symphony, 1961
This portrait of the renowned composer Dmitry Shostakovich represents a shift in Soviet poraiture: instead of a posed picture, photographer Vsevolod Tarasevich found out where the composer rested between performances, and shot a candid image in secret
Photograph: Vsevolod Tarasevich/Lumiere Brothers Center for Photography

The Duel, 1963
The political thaw of the 1960s brought with it a new energy in photography, as this image, from the series ‘Moscow State University’, by Vsevolod Tarasevich shows
Photograph: Vsevolod Tarasevich/Lumiere Brothers Center for Photography

Khrushchev and Castro have lunch at a kolkhoz in Georgia, 1963
Over 38 days, Cuba’s Fidel Castro travelled all over the USSR – the only state leader to do so. It was widely publicised in the Soviet press, and this image of the two enjoying lunch was taken by Vasily Egorov
Photograph: Vasily Egorov/Lumiere Brothers Center for Photography

University gymnastics, Moscow, 1973
Experimenting with form and abstraction, this collage of four different photos taken by Alexander Abaza turns a gymnastics routine into an alphabet of gestures
Photograph: Alexander Abaza/Lumiere Brothers Center for Photography

Tales of the Sea, 1976
Lithuanian photographer Vitaly Butyrin draws on a rich Soviet history with his often surreal photo-montages. This is taken from a series called ‘Tales of the Sea’
Photograph: Lumiere Brothers Center for Photography

Behind the scenes at the Bolshoi Theatre, 1983
Taken from a series which won Vladimir Vytkin his first World Press Photo award nomination, the photograph came during a time when Vytkin was deeply critical of what he said were ‘uneventful’ trends in Soviet photography
Photograph: Vladimir Vytkin/Lumiere Brothers Center for Photography

Army Diary Page, 1989
Born in 1963, the early years of Vadim Gushchin’s career coincided with the economic and political reform years of glasnost and perestroika under Mikhail Gorbachev. His later work veered towards minimalism and still life, but in 1989 he released a series of mixed-media images called Army Diary Pages
Photograph: Lumiere Brothers Center for Photography

(via The Guardian and Nailya Alexander Gallery)

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