Boris Vsevolodovich Ignatovich (1899-1976), one of the masters of early Russian photography and a defining figure of the Soviet avant-garde, was born on the eve of the twentieth century in the city of Slutsk, present-day Belarus. He studied at gymnasia in Lodz, present-day Poland, and in Luhansk, present-day Ukraine, but was expelled from the latter for publishing a handwritten magazine and participating in revolutionary disturbances. He graduated from the Vyborg gymnasium in Petrograd with a silver medal.
Ignatovich began his career as a journalist and editor. In 1918, he became one of the first members of the Russian Union of Soviet Journalists and participated in the First All-Union Congress of Journalists. The following year, he joined the Communist Party. He was put in charge of the regional office of ROSTA (the Russian Telegraph Agency) in Sterlitamak, and by the early 1920s had moved to Moscow and Leningrad to work as an editor.
Ignatovich began taking photographs in the mid-1920s. His first photographic success was a documentary series about villagers in the Ramenskoe Workers’ settlement during the first Five-Year Plan. One of the most daring and experimental artists of his generation, Ignatovich upended the traditional format of documentary photography by using extreme and unconventional angles and perspectives. By the end of the decade, 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. He participated in photography exhibitions in Moscow, Vienna, and Stuttgart, and became a leader of the Association of Moscow Photo-Correspondents.
Ignatovich soon made the acquaintance of artist and photographer Alexander Rodchenko, who would have a great influence on his work. In 1930, both 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 until 1932, when the group was dissolved by government decree. In 1936, when asked by Alexander Berezin 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 newspapers and magazines USSR in Construction, Construction of Moscow, Krasnaya nova, Ognyok, Soviet Photo, and Pravda, among many others. In 1934, he was elected chairman of the Moscow association of photojournalists. In 1937 and 1938, he participated in the First All-Union exhibition of photographic art at the Pushkin Museum of Art in Moscow, 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 photographed the signing of the Potsdam Declaration in 1945, which outlined the terms of surrender for Japan. After the war, he began experimenting with color photography, landscapes, and portraiture. He continued to work for Pravda and Ogonyok, and in the 1950s became a department head at the publishing house Iskusstvo.
Ignatovich continued working as a photographer until the end of his life. He also served as a consultant to photo studio clubs, led technical workshops, and worked for a year in the literary department of Soviet Photo. In 1969, in honor of Ignatovich’s 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 work 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 died on 4 April 1976, and is buried in Rogozhskoe Cemetery in Moscow.