Our online exhibition showcases experiments with framing and composition among the avant-garde Soviet artists of the 1920s and 1930s, including Boris Ignatovich (1899-1976), Arkady Shaikhet (1898-1959), Sergey Shimansky (1898-1972), and Petr Galadzhev (1900-1971). Photographers found that the construction of a robust, carefully framed composition was key to the development of a fresh style and the creation of a powerful metaphor. Constructivist compositions, close-ups, and photomontage were widely implemented. Shaikhet, in particular, employed a Constructivist visual language - as evident in the tight framing and sharp contrast of light and dark in “Construction of the Globe at Moscow Telegraph,” 1928, to celebrate new industrial and architectural forms. In his photocollage “Operator Frantsisson,” 1924, Galadzhev celebrates Boris Frantsisson (1899-1960), the Soviet avant-garde cinematographer who shot Sergei Eisenstein’s first film, Glumov’s Diary (1923), and collaborated with film director Dziga Vertov. Galadzhev inscribed the name “Frantsi-" and "sson” on the collage, perhaps intended as a pun on the Russian word “son,” meaning “to dream,” and on the resemblance of the filmmaker’s name to the name of the country France. Ignatovich, a major force in Soviet avant-garde photography, alongside Aleksandr Rodchenko, demonstrates a humanist aesthetic approach in “Youth,” 1937.
In the same way that artists of the Soviet avant-garde employed new tools and techniques to express their changing reality, photographers of the 1970s and 1980s explored novel ways to use their medium to deconstruct the Soviet reality in their own time. As an example, we feature collages and photomontages from the period by Alexey Titarenko (b. 1962). Drawing on the aesthetics of the artists of the early 20th-century avant-garde, Titarenko conceived the series “Nomenklatura of Signs” as a way to translate the visual reality of Soviet life into a language that expressed its absurdity, and to expose the Communist regime as an oppressive system that converted citizens into mere signs. The result is a biting critique of the Soviet establishment known as the “nomenklatura,” whose imposition of visual propaganda upon the Soviet psyche deprived citizens of their individuality and authenticity. Titarenko links the dehumanizing propaganda in his photomontages with Chapter Two of Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago, “The History of Our Sewage Disposal System,” by depicting Soviet subjects' tragic destiny in an assemblage of prosaic signs and symbols.
A selection from our exhibition will be featured in our Booth B04 at the 26th edition of Paris Photo, which will take place in the Grand Palais Éphémère from Thursday, November 9 through Sunday, November 12, with the opening preview on Wednesday, November 8.