A text has already been published with a selection of talented Russian photographers who are worth following right now. But without a foundation, there would be no roof: time to rewind and replenish knowledge from the other side. Talk about six Soviet and Russian photographers who are ashamed not to know!
1. Evgeny Khaldei (1917–1997)
Kilometers of film and thousands of days of continuous shooting
Evgeny (Efim when he was born) became interested in photography from early childhood: he often went to the photo studio, helped wash the negatives and tried to understand the camera. By the age of 13, he succeeded and he manually (!) assembled his camera from two cardboard boxes and the lenses of his grandmother’s glasses. This was just the beginning.
In 1936, Khaldei was hired as a photojournalist for TASS. The young man at that time was only 19 years old. A few more years ahead, and he will become one of the main witnesses and photographers of World War II, having spent 1418 days documenting what is happening at the front. He released the shutter during the Battle of Moscow in 1941, filmed the Potsdam Conference, and, most importantly, filmed soldiers, prisoners, and ordinary people. They always came first, as he later recalled.
One of the most famous pictures of Chaldea, which you have probably seen, is the Banner of Victory over the Reichstag.
2. Alexander Rodchenko (1891–1956)
The ideologist of constructivism changed the look at the photo
Rodchenko not only outstripped the development of photography for decades to come, but, in fact, was a pioneer of Soviet advertising and a legislator of constructivism. He was the first to look at familiar things from a different angle, choose unexpected angles, build a diagonal composition and generally experiment a lot.
As Osip Brik wrote, Rodchenko strove to turn a familiar thing into a “seemingly never-before-seen construction”, to change a person’s habitual view of the environment, to expand the possibilities of “seeing things”.
Photography was not Alexander’s goal in itself, he was a multi-instrumentalist: design, sculpture, graphics, collages — all this interested him equally. Together with Vladimir Mayakovsky, Rodchenko combined graphics, photography and poems in advertising posters, creating a new style. You have probably seen most of these posters as icons of Soviet graphic design. Rodchenko is considered one of the ideologists of constructivism, a trend in art where form completely merges with function.
3. Georgy Pinkhasov (b.1953)
The only Russian photographer in Magnum press
Pinkhasov is known for his approach to using chiaroscuro and color as his main tools. His whole life is one way or another connected with photography: he studied at VGIK, then worked as a photographer at Mosfilm, then collaborated with Tarkovsky, fixing the process of the director’s work.
Pinkhasov’s photography style began to take shape with photographs of the Moscow creative underground in the 1880s and early 1990s. He filmed nightclubs, informals, city sketches and looked for heroes in ordinary people around. In fact, this is a classic street photography, in the spirit of Cartier-Bresson, whom Pinkhasov considers his teacher.
The characteristic handwriting of the author is the work on the contrast, sometimes surreal scenes, bright colors or the play of chiaroscuro, which gives an ordinary scene a completely different reading. The roots of this approach are guessed at the cinematic past, understanding how color works in a frame and how color can change the mood of this frame.
4. Sergey Maksimishin (b.1964)
Award-winning photojournalist with the most famous shots
Perhaps one of the most famous photojournalists of modern Russia. Winner of several World Press Photo awards. Author of many witty photographs. Some of them you just couldn’t help but see! At least at the exhibition, at least in numerous reposts in social networks. As he himself says: “I think that the most valuable thing in my Russian photographs is such an atmosphere of absurdity, such a Gogol intonation.”
The heroes of his photographs speak for the author perfectly. Simple, complex, kind or not so, high-ranking or ordinary workers. Maksimishin shot not only in Russia, but it was Russian photographs that most often became known to a wide audience. This is a documentation of the Russian person here and now, albeit in a surrealistic manner. The role of Maksimishin cannot be denied, because he is already one of the most important photographers of our time. Today Sergey not only shoots, but also teaches photojournalism to students, to a new generation.
5. Igor Mukhin (b.1961)
Documentary filmmaker of changing eras and informal youth
His works are in the collections of the Tretyakov Gallery, MOMA, Museum of fine arts, FNAC, Wien Museum and other major museums around the world. He himself teaches at the Moscow School of Photography. Rodchenko. And in his photographs, in many ways, he managed to very sincerely document the change of eras in our country.
In the late 80s, Igor actively photographed Soviet youth and rock musicians. Those very pictures of Tsoi, BG, Bashlachev, Garkusha and others are his authorship. This is a very honest documentary in the style of French cinema, the imprint of that time and the younger generation of those years. Not just a rock party: Mukhin has taken and continues to take many other pictures (he has participated in more than 150 exhibitions). However, if it were possible to designate the main leitmotif of ALL photographs, then it would be something in the spirit of “Ordinary people, informal people, youth, street shots … a studying look at everything around.”
6. Vladimir Lagrange (b. 1939)
Almost Soviet Cartier-Bresson
Vladimir’s interest in photography appeared largely due to his parents: his father worked as a correspondent for Pravda, and his mother was a photo editor. Lagrange during his life shot a lot for publications and traveled as a correspondent, but his vision was different from the typical journalistic one. The author photographed ordinary people, peeped at the course of life, looked for a hero in every person, even a schoolboy in solfeggio. He conveyed the atmosphere of the time. Lagrange even managed to document the life of ordinary citizens of France, having got there as part of a friendly delegation “USSR-France” in 1964. He is often called the main photographer of the Thaw.
Many lines from the biography perfectly describe the nature of Lagrange’s handwriting: after TASS, he worked for the Soviet Union magazine for a quarter of a century. Many shots of that era were rejected by the editor with the thesis: “A Soviet person cannot look like that.” Ordinary people can. Residents of communal apartments, students, opposition-minded youth in the 91st, random passers-by and children walking by the fountain. It would be very loud to call him the Soviet Cartier-Bresson, but he is certainly an important person for Soviet and Russian photography! A person who has documented many ordinary, not clichéd moments, from which the idea of a particular era is formed.