Biography

A seminal figure of Russian Constructivism, and the only major avant-garde photographer to document the extraordinary industrial advancements that transformed the Soviet Union in the aftermath of the 1917 revolution, Boris Vsevolodovich Ignatovich (1899-1976) was born in the city of Slutsk, present-day Belarus, on the eve of the twentieth century. He began his career as a journalist and editor. In 1918, at only nineteen years of age, he became one of the first members of the Russian Union of Soviet Journalists, and participated in the First All-Union Congress of Journalists.

By the mid-1920s, Ignatovich had moved to Moscow and Leningrad and had begun taking photographs. His first success was a documentary series about villagers in the Ramenskoe Workers’ settlement during the first Five-Year Plan. By the decade’s end, he was working as a professional press photographer and photojournalist and was producing his first films. He documented the industrial changes sweeping the country, from the construction of power plants and factories to the importation of the first American tractors into the USSR, and produced some of the first aerial views of Moscow and Leningrad. Ignatovich’s images upended the traditional format of documentary photography by using extreme and unconventional angles and perspectives, and were shown in exhibitions in Moscow, Vienna, and Stuttgart.

Ignatovich worked closely with Alexander Rodchenko, Varvara Stepanova, and El Lissitzky, all of whom became members of the distinguished October group, an avant-garde union of artists, architects, film directors, and photographers. When Rodchenko was expelled from the group for his formalist photography, Ignatovich took over from him as head of the photography section. In 1936, when asked whom among contemporary photographers he most respected, Rodchenko responded, “Above all, Ignatovich. He has not only the keen eye of a reporter, but good taste. He’s a gifted lad, a true artist.”

Throughout the 1930s, Ignatovich produced photographs, photo essays, and aerial surveys for the periodicals USSR in Construction, Krasnaya nova, Ognyok, Soviet Photo, and Pravda, among many others. He was elected chairman of the Moscow Association of Photojournalists, and participated in the First All-Union Exhibition of Photographic Art at the Pushkin Museum of Art in Moscow, at the Russian Museum in Leningrad, and in Kiev, Ukraine; his work was also shown in England and Lithuania.

During World War II, Ignatovich worked as a military photographer on both the Eastern and Western Fronts, riding on horseback with the soldiers and reporting on both the military action of the war and the conditions and daily life in the trenches and encampments; he also photographed the signing of the Potsdam Declaration in 1945. After the war, he began experimenting with color photography, landscapes, and portraiture. He continued to work for Pravda and Ogonyok, and became a department head at the publishing house Iskusstvo. 

Ignatovich continued working as a photographer until the end of his life. In 1969, in honor of his seventieth birthday, the Moscow branch of the Union of Soviet Journalists organized a solo exhibition of his work at the Central Home of Journalists. The exhibition featured photographs from every period of Ignatovich’s career, from 1923 through 1963, and included large-scale prints whose size was highly unusual for exhibitions at that time. The collection is preserved in its entirety.

"Boris Ignatovich was a universal photographer,” writes Aleksandr Lavrentiev, art historian and director of the Rodchenko-Stepanova Archive. “He was a journalist and a reporter, a war photographer, a portraitist, a pedagogue, and a master of applied photography. Ignatovich's own prints were unrepeatable artworks of his darkroom…The tonal richness of Ignatovich's prints is akin to painting. He turned photographs into art, because he understood what art is. But he was not imitating painting. It all flowed from his technique, from what he'd seen, from mastery."

Boris Ignatovich died on 4 April 1976. He is buried in Rogozhskoe Cemetery in Moscow.