Russian photographic Avant-Garde of the 1920s and 1930s, represented by Aleksandr Rodchenko, El Lissitzky, Boris Ignatovich and others, in spite of persecution and repressive measures of the totalitarian regime, became a classic part of Russian and world art. But few people realize that at the very same period there was another, pictorial trend in Russian photography, which strove to approximate photography to painting, using mainly ‘soft’ lenses and special, often very sophisticated printing techniques. Pictorial photography challenged documentary shots and, just like painting, sought to convey the emotional side of things, and to express the individual senses and meanings implied by the artist in his work.
Photographic debates of the late 1920s were mostly about aesthetics, focusing on the advantages of certain compositions and opportunities offered by different optical devices or printing techniques. But by the early 30s aesthetics yielded to ideology. From the late 1920s onwards all spheres of Soviet life, including the art of photography, were haunted by the search for enemies of revolutionary changes. The ‘enemy’ image became a foundation for ideological propaganda. On the one hand it paralysed everyone’s personality with fear, on the other, it aimed to consolidate and inspire the masses in their heroic efforts for the sake of radiant future. Thus pictorialists ended up as ‘enemies’ in photography. They were accused of predilection for the old non-revolutionary world, where bourgeois values reigned supreme and ignored class struggles. Passion for landscapes, old palaces or naked women was condemned as ‘Turgenev’s stuff’ (after the nineteenth-century writer) and ‘political short-sightedness’.
Nevertheless, the more violent the attacks became, the stronger the ‘quiet’ resistance. Working with ‘non-Soviet’ subjects, pictorialists defended their aesthetics, which took shape before revolutionary upheavals, and their outlook, which differed from the new Bolshevik mythology. Wrote Yury Yeremin, ‘…I am going on my way bravely and calmly. As to reconstruction, for those who regard it lightly it is very easy to change their ways’.
In 1928 in ‘Novy LEF’ magazine Alexander Rodchenko spoke out against pictorialists: ‘It is not so much painting we are struggling with (it is dying anyway), but rather with photography ‘a la painting‘… We have to experiment’. But in the mid-1930s, when attacks on pictorialism were at their worst, he skilfully used that very style for his famous ‘Circus’ series as well as scenes from classical operas and ballets.
The publication is prepared by MDF, with the participation of Mikhail Golosovsky and the Union of Photo Artists of Russia. The publication includes the works of Andrei Karelin, Alexei Mazurin, Nikolai Petrov, Sergei Lobovikov, Sergei Savrasov, Anatoly Trapani, Boris Eliseev, Myron Sherling, Alexander Grinberg, Yuri Yeremin, Leonid Shokin, Nikolai Svishchov-Paola, Nikolai Andreev, Sergei Ivanov-Alliluev, Emil Bendel, Peter Klepikov, Vasily Ulitin and Alexander Rodchenko.
192 p., soft cover