Mark Markov-Grinberg. The Soviet Era

29.02 - 15.04. 2012

The selection of around 180 works entitled The Soviet Era by Markov-Grinberg (1907–2006) examines the photographer’s work over the course of four decades spanning reports on rustic and factory labor, war reportage, cityscapes, and portraits of celebrities such as Sergei Eisenstein and Yuri Gagarin.

Mark Markov-Grinberg. Nikita Izotov. Gorlovka, 1934

Markov-Grinberg’s career as a photographer started in his native city Rostov-on-Don, where he was lucky enough to take a picture of Vladimir Mayakovskiy in his hotel room when the poet was touring the city. After moving to Moscow in 1926, he worked for various magazines and in 1929, was offered a job at the leading soviet news agency Telegraph Agency of the Soviet Union (TASS).

In the 1930s, with the shift from market friendly policies to rapid industrialization, media was used for the purpose of propaganda. Reports intended to extol Soviet accomplishments and project utopian visions of the future. Despite a tight ideological framework, Markov-Grinberg remained a sincere artist whose works reflected his beliefs. He identified himself with the Union of Russian Proletarian Photographers, led by the famous photojournalists Arkady Shaikhet and Max Alpert. The association stood for straightforward reportage and opposed the constructivist group October, headed by Alexander Rodchenko. Despite criticizing Rodchenko for favoring aesthetics over content, Markov-Grinberg considered him his teacher and friend. The persuasive power of Markov-Grinberg’s works relies on immediacy, acute observation and professional commitment. His eponymous series Coal and Roses about the hero of labor Nikita Izotov was the result of a six-month immersion in the life of coal miners. Initially conceived for the eyes of foreigners, it was published in the foremost foreign magazines such as German Arbeiter-Illustrierte-Zeitung and the French communist magazine Regard.

Working as a war correspondent during the Second World War, Markov-Grinberg showed himself as a daring and compassionate photographer. Along with columns of marching troops and batteries firing in the front line, his pictures from the battlefronts portray individuals caught in the hubbub of war: a soldier carrying his wounded comrade from the battlefield or troops shaving during a lull in the battle. Photographing behind the lines, he focuses on people coping with devastating consequences of war and concentration camp prisoners after the German surrender.

Mark Markov-Grinberg was a sincere artist who believed in the much-touted utopian future and helped build towards it. His one of few along with Alexander Rodchenko, Arkady Shaikhet and Max Alpert who laid the foundation of Soviet photography, paving the way for a future generation of photographers.