Yakov Ryumkin. Take your chance to live

13.02 – 12.05. 2013

Encompassing 85 works, Take your chance to live explores the work of the outstanding Soviet photographer Yakov Ryumkin (1913–1986). The exhibition focuses on the most fruitful decades of Ryumkin’s work, bringing together reports of war and daily life of Soviet people from the 1940s–1960s.

Yakov Ryumkin. In the field, 1960s

Yakov Ryumkin’s first job was as a shoeshiner near the entrance to the editorial office of a Kharkov local newspaper. Shortly, the newspaper offered him a courier job and then a job of an apprentice reporter. He began to work as a photojournalist in 1936 at the age of 23. During World War II, Ryumkin was a correspondent of the leading Soviet newspaper Pravda, and afterwards worked for the magazine Ogonek and the editorial Koloss.

Yakov Ryumkin’s photographs from World War II represent a visual record of the conflict as seen through the eyes of a soldier. He experienced the war from the first to the last day documenting major battles such as Leningrad, Stalingrad, Sebastopol, the Barents and the Black sea. He was rarely far from the most harrowing action, usually accompanying troops firing on the front line. During the Battle of Stalingrad, he documented the vicious fighting between German and Soviet troops in the city streets. Ryumkin brings viewers closer to his subjects, by sharing feelings of signallers as they write letters during lulls in the battle or troops smoking and laughing in trenches. His vivid action pictures direct from the battlefront are reminiscent of the immediate and affecting war photography by Robert Capa. Ryumkin also documented the routine of Soviet officials. Among pictures of generals pondering over maps in their headquarters, his archive contains the photograph of signing of the surrender by the German army in May 1945. In his work behind the lines, Ryumkin reported mainly on life returning to normalcy among the ruins of the USSR.

During the 1950s–1960s Ryumkin travelled a lot, reaching as far as Sakha Republic in the Far East or the North Pole. His work from the period is permeated with a mood of post-war optimism. Although conceived to celebrate Soviet lifestyle, his photographs might be read for their small revelations: an enormous queue at the Lenin’s mausoleum on Red square lifts the curtain on Soviet political life and a row of fathers marching in step with baby carriages signals overemphasized gender equality reflected in a term of address “tovarisch” used both for men and women. Whatever Ryumkin photographed – troops in the frontline or people revelling in peace and happiness – he rejected staged photography and strived to capture vivacity. He once noted on his own career “None of my photographs has been taken purposefully”.