Dmitrii Debabov (1899-1949) was a prominent Russian photographer, known for his collaboration with the film director Sergei Eisenstein, and his participation in the avant-garde photography collective, October.
Debabov began his first career as an actor for the First Proletkult Worker’s Theater in 1925. He performed for the company for four years under the direction of Sergei Eisenstein, who during this period, encouraged Debabov to experiment with photography. Heeding Eisenstein’s advice, Debabov enrolled in the State Cinematography Institute and began an earnest career in photography.
In 1929, Debabov worked as a set photographer for Sergei Eisenstein’s film The General Line. During this time, Debabov also published his first photograph, Going to Work, in the photography periodical, Sovetskoe Foto. His association with the experimental director, coupled with his contributions to Constructivist aesthetics in photography landed him a spot in the prestigious October group, led by Alexander Rodchenko and Boris Ignatovich. The October photographic division was the most radical independent arts organization of the early 1930s.
Debabov’s close friendship with fellow Moscow vanguard photographers is reflected by Georgy Petrussov’s 1934 caricature of the artist. Montaged from two negatives, the photograph depicts a disproportionately large Debabov standing on his head in a barren landscape. Petrussov would also use experimental printing methods to create caricatures for the photographers Alexander Rodchenko and Boris Kudoyarov. Debabov, himself, frequently photographed Sergei Eisenstein, and created portraits of the artists Alexander Rodchenko, Esfir Shub, Roman Karmen and Vladimir Favorsky.
Following October’s closure by the Soviet authorities, Debabov joined the Soviet Union’s largest photographic agency, Soyuzfoto, that contributed photographs to such publications as USSR in Construction and Izvestiya. Debabov would additionally publish his photographs in Rabochaia Moskva, Vecherniaia Moskva, and Molodoi Lineets.
As a correspondent for Soyuzfoto and Izvestiya, Debabov photographed diverse subject matter — from prominent Soviet writers, to the Magnitogorsk Steel Plant in Southern Russia, to Russia’s northernmost regions of the Narymskaya Taiga and the Taimyr Peninsula. His photographs, while extremely rare, have been shown both during his life and posthumously. Most recently, his 1932 photograph Steelworker, was exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago’s seminal 2017-2018 exhibition, Revolutsiia! Demonstratsiia! Soviet Art Put to the Test.
Debabov died in 1949 at the age of 50.