100 years of Russian history in faces

20.06 - 16.09. 2012

Encompassing around 300 photographs, 100 years of Russian history in Faces, traces the evolution of Russian society in the 20th century through its characteristic types, captured by some of the most celebrated Russian and Soviet photographers. Shaped by their time and surroundings, they bring us in contact with Russian history both through their approaches to photography and subjects.

Yakov Khalip. Torpedo Gunner Victor Cherokov. The Baltic Sea Fleet, 1936

A selection of photographs from 1900s–1930s, featuring rare vintage prints, presents portraits of people, who associated themselves with pre-revolutionary Russia. Alluring women, photographed by the prominent pictoralist Alexander Grinberg, pose with grace and selfpossession, revealing their upper class status. Maksim Dmitriev’s portrait of an old peasant against a timber wall, emanating calm and wisdom, gives an idea of deep-rooted attachment of farmers to their fields. These portrayals of distinct characters, marked by their class and environment, contrasted later by anonymous snapshots of people posing in rows around the portrait of Lenin, bear witness to the irrevocable changes of society.

Through the 1920s and early 1930s, photojournalists sought to celebrate the advent of a new industrial society. Arkady Shaikhet’s famous The Ilyich`s lamp (1925), portraying peasants thoughtfully examining a lamp, promoted Lenin’s electrification campaign. In the 1930s, photography became a propaganda tool of glorifying Soviet achievements and promoting the utopian future. Among peasants, workers and pioneers, appearing as shining ideal types, one can discern distinct characters: Emmanuil Evzerikhin’s Bugler (1934), taken from below, looks elegant and refined as if he was a medieval minstrel, Jakov Khalip’s Torpedo gunner (1936) suggests permanence and might of an ancient hero. Belief in the Soviet utopia, coupled with top notch professionalism, underpins immense ideological power of these works. Apart from heroic types of officers, World War II reportages feature poignant reports from battlefields produced in the documentary vein. Highly artificial, staged scenes from the late 1940s and 1950s reflect twilight of the Stalin’s era and the need for change.

By the mid-1960s, a new generation, born after the World War II and raised in a time of de- Stalinization and liberalization, was coming of age. With easing of censorship, photographers adopted a documentary approach to examine the new society and its protagonists. Vladimir Lagrange’s Theoretical physicist (1980), seemingly pondering over a complex matter, embodies the new class of intellectuals. The photographers turned their attention to the everyday life of common people, focusing on manifestations of their subjects’ emotional lives. Works from this period share a sense of openness and nonchalance epitomized in Nina Sviridova and Dmitriy Vozdvigensky’s shots of serene happiness. Through the 1980s and 1990s, photographers became increasingly interested in people previously ignored by society: workers facing hardship, elderly people trapped in poverty, groups at the margins of society. Unglamorous naturalism inherent to their imagery reflects distress that the society endured due to the collapse of the USSR.

Spanning several generations and almost 100 years, the exhibition offers enough of comparative material to shed the light on why Russian society took its contemporary shape.