Vladimir Lagrange. The way we lived

23.12 - 18.01. 2009

The way we lived, a solo exhibition of prominent Soviet and Russian photographer Vladimir Lagrange traces the evolution of Soviet society from the Thaw to the collapse of the Soviet Union. He presents a mythical USSR of triumphs in science and industry in the 1960s and 1970s, becomes increasingly conserned about the unseen or ignored side of society towards the 1980s and immerses himself in the troubling narratives of the late 1980s and 1990s. The exhibition features 200 works produced over 40 years.

Vladimir Lagrange. Salfeggio, 1967

Until the early 1950s, socialist realism dominated the field of photography, which idealized the socialist lifestyle and glorified achievements of the Soviet state. With Joseph Stalin’s death in 1953, relatively liberal reforms known as “The Thaw” ushered in the revival of photojournalism and artistic photography.

Lagrange was a top-notch Soviet photographer during the Thaw. By the time he turned twenty he started working in the leading Soviet news agency Telegraph Agency of the Soviet Union (TASS) and after several years, he moved over to Soviet Union, a magazine about Soviet life published for the eyes of foreigners. In the 1990s, Lagrange was working for Sipa Press photo agency. His photographs were published in such internationally recognized magazines as Paris Match and Freie Welt.

As a correspondent of Soviet Union, Lagrange travelled through Russia and reported on diverse subjects, such as dismantling of rockets in Siberia and daily life in maternity homes. From the very beginning of his career, Lagrange sought a new visual language to convey a sense of hope and conviviality that permeated Soviet society. Lagrange developed his own style by taking a cue from luminaries of Soviet photography such as Emmanuil Evzerikhin, Jakov Khalip, Evgeniy Khaldey and Vasily Egorov. His vivid reports on society in action are guided by a subtle visual interest. He favored black and white film over color because it enabled him to achieve sharper contrasts and accentuate dynamics. He uses blur to emphasize the emotional immediacy of the moment and engage viewers in the narrative of his pictures. In his work from the 1970s to the 1980s benign views of social life, alternate with glimpses into Soviet routine: Lagrange’s friends in their apartments, home parties, people socializing at their work or in public spaces. He infuses humour into his work by merging utopian ideological declarations with mundane reality.

During his work for Sipa Press, Lagrange documented the severe economic distress connected with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Poignant pictures of asylums for disabled, old people trapped in poverty, abandoned villages, barricaded streets during the putsch of October 1993 contradict with graceful imagery of Soviet society, which Lagrange submitted to the editorial of Soviet Union. In this part of his work, he plays down formal aspects of photography to bring into public view an unembellished picture of society.