2014 is the UK-Russia Year of Culture and, as part of the celebrations, central London’s Richard Saltoun Gallery is holding an exhibition of 1,500 vintage images entitled The Visual Revolution: Russian Avant-Garde Photography, Alexander Rodchenko & the Vkhutemas Workshop, which runs from Wednesday July 9 to Friday August 29.
Photography came to be highly regarded in Russia during the 1917 revolution, when the state realised how powerful this apparently “honest” medium could be in demonstrating the “realities” of life and culture in the new Soviet state. This exhibition contains many of these propaganda images, as well as work from the constructivist-supremacist period of the 1920s, the 1930s socialist-realist movement and the second world war.
Most sought-after are pieces by Alexander Rodchenko, who spearheaded Russian constructivism, revolutionised the way photography was used in his country and developed the concept of photo art. Inspired by Maholy-Nagy’s experimental technique, Rodchenko experimented with innovative perspectives such as bird’s-eye and worm’s-eye views and took to shooting street scenes such as the 1928 gelatine silver print Zhenshchina S Kolyaskoi (Woman with Baby Carriage, £7,000, first picture) with a diagonal perspective.
Other key names include the photojournalist Max Alpert, best known for his eerily beautiful series of images of a hydroelectric plant on the Dnepr river (Untitled Dnepr Dam, gelatine silver print, £2,200, second picture); Georgi Zelma, who collaborated with both Alpert and Rodchenko on the magazine USSR in Construction (Petrusov and Shaikhet, period gelatine silver print, £2,750, third picture) and the Vkhutemas Workshop. The images, such as 46 Architectural 1V 5-37 (vintage gelatine silver print, £3,000) from this group provide a fascinating glimpse inside what was Russia’s leading art school during the period 1920-1930 and the seed bed of constructivism, rationalism and suprematism.