Posts Tagged ‘personal photography

11
Aug
19

Text: Marcus Bunyan. “Nothing emerges from nothing,” Foreword to ‘We Had Such High Hopes: Student Activism and the Peace Movement 1949-1952, A Photographic Memoir by Joyce Evans’ 2019

August 2019

Publisher: Australian Scholarly Publishing
ISBN: 9781925801859
Hardback
Purchase

 

 

Book cover to 'We Had Such High Hopes: Student Activism and the Peace Movement 1949-1952, A Photographic Memoir by Joyce Evans' 2019

 

Book cover to We Had Such High Hopes: Student Activism and the Peace Movement 1949-1952, A Photographic Memoir by Joyce Evans. Australian Scholarly Publishing 2019.

 

 

The book We Had Such High Hopes: Student Activism and the Peace Movement 1949-1952, A Photographic Memoir by Joyce Evans has now been published by Australian Scholarly Publishing and is available to purchase from their website.

I just want to say a big thank you to everyone who worked on the book, and an especially big thank you to the wonderful Jenner Zimmer who edited the book and without whose help it would not be the book it turned out to be. Her research in tracking down who the people were in the photographs, their correct names, the location of some of the photographs, and her layout of the book, was magnificent to say the least. Through her excellent work, we can now place these photographs not only in a personal context, but in an important historical context in relation to the development of the civil rights movement in Australia directly after the Second World War.

The book is a reflection of the times, an insight into the nascent civil rights movement of the late 1940s-1950s that reached full bloom in the 1960s. As I observe in the foreword below it also becomes a reflection on how photography and friendship go hand in hand… and how this transformative process leads us to reassess our relationship to the world through the act of taking photographs.

Marcus

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Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Foreword

Nothing emerges from nothing

 

 

“… every human being is a poet, a masker, a warrior, a dancer: and in his innocent artistry he projects, against the turmoil of the street, an image of human existence.”

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Helen Levitt. In the Street 1948.1

 

 

The gift of friendship between two people is a truly magical thing, a relationship built on the nurturing of respect between them, over time. The alchemical gift of a photograph does not arrive fully formed in a moment, for its magic is grounded in the context of its taking, informed by the wisdom, vision and creativity of the photographer. How Joyce Evans was touched by a connection between photography and friendship is another transformative process, one that leads her to reassess her relationship to the world through the act of taking photographs. Nothing ever emerges from nothing.

My friendship with Joyce Evans began when a joint acquaintance who knew of our love of photography introduced us. Over numerous years since – through trips to Sydney to see Joyce’s favourite photographer Julia Margaret Cameron; through visits to many exhibitions where we have discussed our reactions to the work (often with completely opposing views); through vigorous debate about the merits of different artists; through her promotion of Australian photography; and through her deep knowledge of the world, of life, and of art – I have come to know and love this vibrant and intelligent women. To begin to understand this complex human being and her approach to photography and life. The photographs, text and poetry in this book show evidence of the early maturing of this spirit of life.

Imagine being a nineteen year old who has been studying in America after the end of the Second World War, who has arrived in poverty-stricken England to meet friends who were mutually interested in the peace movement. Imagine travelling across Europe by car with those same friends, as mass migrations of people across Europe were still happening after the war, staying in youth hostels, to camp outside the city of Vienna. Then to cross the “Iron Curtain” and journey with thousands of other people from eight-two countries around the world to the city of Budapest for the Second World Festival of Youth and Students – a festival movement that grew out of the ashes of the war to proclaim, to shout, that youth would never again allow the horrors of fascism to terrorise the world. What a journey of discovery, love, friendship, excitement and danger that must have been!

Using her intelligence and the informed nature of her artistic being to define what interested her most, Joyce documented what she saw of the world around her.2 In so doing, these early photographs set the stage for concerns that have remained consistent in her work to this very day: peace, freedom, place, identity and humanity. While the photographs are a mirror of the times, portraying the improvisational vitality of everyday life, they also represent how the mind of the photographer can be embodied in the physical world, providing a glimpse into that most secret room of all – the core beliefs of a human being, their humanity, their soul.

The Australian photographer Max Dupain stated that the ‘mission of the photograph is to clarify the subject’.3 But perhaps the mission of the photograph is also to help clarify the identity of the artist. As the Austrian-born American photographer Inge Morath eloquently observes:

“Photography is a strange phenomenon. In spite of the use of that technical instrument, the camera, no two photographers, even if they were at the same place at the same time, come back with the same pictures. The personal vision is usually there from the beginning; result of a special chemistry of background and feelings, traditions and their rejection, of sensibility and voyeurism. You trust your eye and you cannot help but bare your soul. One’s vision finds of necessity the form suitable to express it.”4

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The form that Joyce found so early in her life was the music and poetry of humanist photographs, images that are subjective, lyrical, and reveal a state-of-mind. Here is passion and belief in the life of human beings, and the exquisiteness, beauty (and death) of the lived moment. You could label them “social documentary photography” if you were so inclined, but labels don’t capture the frisson of the creative process nor the joyous outcome of Joyce’s portraits. It’s as though Joyce, in a mixture of consciousness and unconsciousness, is making love to the world through her images: neither rational nor cerebral they evoke sensations and feelings, of being here and there, in that past space and time, now, all these years later. These were epic days of change and transformation – of nations, of continents, of cultures and of people. There was death and destruction but there was also such happiness, hope and joy.

Further, what her photographs also depict is the rise of an informed Australian social consciousness after the Second World War. Her important historical and personal photographs shine a light on forgotten people, times, places and actions, such as the broad based youth movements opposition to the atomic bomb, associations and friendships which eventually form the basis for the progressive social and political protest movements of the 1960s. The voices raised later in support of feminism, gay liberation, free love and Vietnam anti-war protests did not appear fully formed, for there was a history of activism… a slow build, a groundswell of public opinion that was the basis for such emerging actions. Nothing ever emerges from nothing.

As much as Joyce’s photographs engage the viewer in memory, they also engage in the moment, both past and present. Not only an engagement with the history and nostalgia of the images, but in their present day hope and joy. It is such a pleasure to see these strong images, of people now old, still young, a moving image of humanity. This is the heart of the matter: a moving image of humanity. The photographs represent an understanding of (a) life, well formed and well lived, of a courageous and visionary woman who told it her way, who still tells it her way to this day.

I have a deep sense of gratitude for both our friendship and for Joyce Evans’ prescient vision in recording these remarkable stories so that they can be shared today. At the time they had such high hopes, for their lives and for the future, energy that eventually morphed into something else (as is its want). This leaves these images, written memory, as both poem and testimonial to the uncertainty of human dreams and to the percipience of the artist who embodied and enabled them… in feeling, in love and in spirit. Nothing ever emerges from nothing. Good on ya Bert!

Dr Marcus Bunyan
Melbourne, February 2019

 

Endnotes

  1. Helen Levitt (ed.,). In the Street. Directed by Helen Levitt, Janice Loeb and James Agee. Black and white film, 14 mins. 1948 (VHS) New York: Arthouse, Inc., 1996.
  2. Joyce was ever attentive to the power of the historical for she had been studying the Baroque painters in Paris and on her travels through Italy, evidence of which can be seen in the grouping of human figures in her photographs.
  3. Anonymous label. “Max Dupain, (Factory chimney stacks) 1940,” on the National Gallery of Australia website [Online] Cited 15/02/2019.
  4. Inge Morath, Sabine Folie and Gerald Matt. Inge Morath, Life as a Photographer. Munich: Gina Kehayoff Verlag, 1999, p. 13.

 

 

Joyce Evans (Australian, 1929-2019) 'Good on yer Bert' 1949

 

Joyce Evans (Australian, 1929-2019)
Good on yer Bert
1949
Gelatin silver print
From We Had Such High Hopes: Student Activism and the Peace Movement 1949-1952, A Photographic Memoir by Joyce Evans (Australian Scholarly Publishing 2019)

 

Joyce Evans (Australian, 1929-2019) 'Untitled [Budapest crowd]' 1949

 

Joyce Evans (Australian, 1929-2019)
Budapest crowd
1949
Gelatin silver print
From We Had Such High Hopes: Student Activism and the Peace Movement 1949-1952, A Photographic Memoir by Joyce Evans (Australian Scholarly Publishing 2019)

 

Joyce Evans (Australian, 1929-2019) 'Stalin banner, Budapest' 1949

 

Joyce Evans (Australian, 1929-2019)
Stalin banner, Budapest
1949
Gelatin silver print
From We Had Such High Hopes: Student Activism and the Peace Movement 1949-1952, A Photographic Memoir by Joyce Evans (Australian Scholarly Publishing 2019)

 

Joyce Evans (Australian, 1929-2019) 'Farewell to Delegates' 1951

 

Joyce Evans (Australian, 1929-2019)
Farewell to Delegates
1951
Gelatin silver print
From We Had Such High Hopes: Student Activism and the Peace Movement 1949-1952, A Photographic Memoir by Joyce Evans (Australian Scholarly Publishing 2019)

 

Joyce Evans (Australian, 1929-2019) 'Farewell to Delegates Townsend' 1951

 

Joyce Evans (Australian, 1929-2019)
Farewell to Delegates
1951
Gelatin silver print
From We Had Such High Hopes: Student Activism and the Peace Movement 1949-1952, A Photographic Memoir by Joyce Evans (Australian Scholarly Publishing 2019)

 

Joyce Evans (Australian, 1929-2019) 'Joyce with camera' 1951

 

Joyce Evans (Australian, 1929-2019)
Joyce with camera
1951
Gelatin silver print
From We Had Such High Hopes: Student Activism and the Peace Movement 1949-1952, A Photographic Memoir by Joyce Evans (Australian Scholarly Publishing 2019)

 

Joyce Evans (Australian, 1929-2019) 'Joyce onboard ship' 1951

 

Joyce Evans (Australian, 1929-2019)
Joyce onboard ship
1951
Gelatin silver print
From We Had Such High Hopes: Student Activism and the Peace Movement 1949-1952, A Photographic Memoir by Joyce Evans (Australian Scholarly Publishing 2019)

 

Joyce Evans (Australian, 1929-2019) 'Joyce with lifeboat' 1951

 

Joyce Evans (Australian, 1929-2019)
Joyce with lifeboat
1951
Gelatin silver print
From We Had Such High Hopes: Student Activism and the Peace Movement 1949-1952, A Photographic Memoir by Joyce Evans (Australian Scholarly Publishing 2019)

 

Joyce Evans (Australian, 1929-2019) 'Faith Bandler' 1951

 

Joyce Evans (Australian, 1929-2019)
Faith Bandler
1951
Gelatin silver print
From We Had Such High Hopes: Student Activism and the Peace Movement 1949-1952, A Photographic Memoir by Joyce Evans (Australian Scholarly Publishing 2019)

 

Joyce Evans (Australian, 1929-2019) 'Edward 'Woods Lloyd' Drummond' 1951

 

Joyce Evans (Australian, 1929-2019)
Edward ‘Woods Lloyd’ Drummond
1951
Gelatin silver print
From We Had Such High Hopes: Student Activism and the Peace Movement 1949-1952, A Photographic Memoir by Joyce Evans (Australian Scholarly Publishing 2019)

 

 

Description

Some think it all happened in the 1960s but Joyce Evans, acclaimed photographer of Australia’s land and its people, goes back to her youth and memories of her many adventures as a student activist. In 1949, aged 19, she set sail for Soviet-occupied Budapest to join the post-war demonstrations at ‘The World Festival of Youth and Students for Peace’. It was a time when young Australians dreamed of change and travelled to war-torn Europe in the hope of peace becoming the new reality. Among them were many who would later become important figures in Australia’s government, legal profession, diplomatic corps and academia. People like Frank Hardy, John Bluthal, Faith Bandler, Clyde Holding, Irving Saulwick and Richard Woolcott appear in Joyce Evans’ photographs of these events.

This story, with its cast of endearing and passionate characters, records voyages across battle-scarred Europe, clashes with draconian authorities, daring escapes, betrayals, lost idealism and a wealth of unlikely friendships. It describes the adventures of a youthful cohort who felt empowered and believed it could fulfil its dream of world-wide peace. Joyce says: ‘If such a dream existed then, such high hopes can be reclaimed by the youth of today!’

Text from the Australian Scholarly Publishing website [Online] Cited 08/08/2019

 

World Federation of Democratic Youth

The World Federation of Democratic Youth (WFDY) is an international youth organisation, recognised by the United Nations as an international youth non-governmental organisation, and has historically characterised itself as anti-imperialist and left-wing. WFDY was founded in London in 1945 as a broad international youth movement, organised in the context of the end of World War II with the aim of uniting youth from the Allies behind an anti-fascist platform that was broadly pro-peace, anti-nuclear war, expressing friendship between youth of the capitalist and socialist nations. The WFDY Headquarters are in Budapest, Hungary. The main event of WFDY is the World Festival of Youth and Students. The last festival was held in Sochi, Russia, in October 2017. It was one of the first organisations granted general consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council.

 

History

On 10 November 1945, the World Youth Conference, organised in London, founded the World Federation of Democratic Youth. This historic conference was convened at the initiative of the World Youth Council which was formed during World War II to encourage the fight against fascism by the youth of the allied nations. The conference brought together, for the first time in the history of the international youth movement, representatives of more than 30,000,000 young people of diverse different political ideologies and religious beliefs from 63 nations. It adopted a pledge for peace.

Shortly after, with the onset of the Cold War and Winston Churchill’s Iron Curtain speech, the organisation was accused by the US State Department of being a “Moscow front”. Many of the founding organisations quit, leaving mostly youth from socialist nations, national liberation movements, and communist youth. Like the International Union of Students (IUS) and other pro-Soviet organisations, the WFDY became a target and victim of CIA espionage as well as part of active measures conducted by the Soviet state security.

The WFYD’s first General Secretary, Alexander Shelepin, was a former leader of the Young Communist International which had been dissolved in 1943. Shelepin had been a guerilla fighter during World War II (after his work with the WFDY, he was appointed head of Soviet State Security). Both the WFDY and IUS vocally criticised the Marshall Plan, supported the Czechoslovak coup d’état of 1948 and the new People’s Democracies in Europe. They opposed the Korean War.

The main event of the WFDY became the World Festival of Youth and Students, a massive political and cultural celebration for peace and friendship between the youth of the world. Most, but not all, of the early festivals were held in socialist nations in Europe.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

World Festival of Youth and Students

The World Festival of Youth and Students is an international event, organised by the World Federation of Democratic Youth (WFDY), a United Nations-recognised international youth non-governmental organisation, jointly with the International Union of Students since 1947. Initially pluralist, the event became an outlet for Soviet propaganda for foreign audiences during the Cold War.

The festival has been held regularly since 1947 as an event of global youth solidarity for democracy and against war and imperialism. The largest festival was the 6th, held in 1957 in Moscow, when 34,000 young people from 131 countries attended the event. This festival also marked the international debut of the song “Moscow Nights”, which subsequently went on to become perhaps the most widely recognised Russian song in the world. Until the 19th festival in Sochi, Russia in 2017 (with 185 countries participating), the largest festival by number of countries with participants was the 13th, held in 1989 in Pyongyang when 177 countries attended the event.

The World Federation of Democratic Youth was founded to bring together young people of both the socialist and capitalist countries to promote peaceful cooperation and mutual rejection of war. However, with the onset of the Cold War soon after, the organisation and the festivals became a matter of contention within the rivalry. Because of the enormous expenditure and coordination required to support a youth festival, most of the early festivals were held in cities in the socialist countries of Europe. However, many festivals, both then and more so since, have been held in non-socialist countries, affirming the commitment to peaceful coexistence between the peoples living under the different systems. The most recent festival took place in Sochi, Russia, from 13 to 22 October 2017.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

2nd World Festival of Youth and Students

The Second World Festival of Youth and Students (WFYS) was held in 1949, in Budapest, a city still recuperating from World War II. The 2nd WFYS was one of three major youth events held in Hungary in 1949, along with the World University Summer Games and the World Youth Congress. It was organised by the World Federation of Democratic Youth and the International Union of Students

On August 14, 1949, 20,000 young people from 82 countries, gathered in the Ujpest Stadium, inaugurating the festival. For two weeks, the participants took part in cultural, sport, and political activities. The festival expressed its solidarity for the “anti-colonialist struggle” of the peoples of Indonesia, Malaysia and French Indochina and also for the “anti-fascist struggle” of the Spanish and Greek peoples. It was the first time that a delegation from what would become East Germany took part.

It featured a sports programme, including an athletics competition.

The motto of the festival was: Youth Unite! Forward for Lasting Peace, Democracy, National Independence and a better future for the people!

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Joyce Evans (Australian, 1929-2019) 'No Coal for War, May Day March' 1951

 

Joyce Evans (Australian, 1929-2019)
No Coal for War, May Day March
1951
Gelatin silver print
From We Had Such High Hopes: Student Activism and the Peace Movement 1949-1952, A Photographic Memoir by Joyce Evans (Australian Scholarly Publishing 2019)

 

Joyce Evans (Australian, 1929-2019) 'Reduce Armaments Ban Atomic Bomb, May Day March, Flinders Street, Melbourne' 1951

 

Joyce Evans (Australian, 1929-2019)
Reduce Armaments Ban Atomic Bomb, May Day March, Flinders Street, Melbourne
1951
Gelatin silver print
From We Had Such High Hopes: Student Activism and the Peace Movement 1949-1952, A Photographic Memoir by Joyce Evans (Australian Scholarly Publishing 2019)

 

Pictured image-right, Professor Bernard Rechter.

 

Joyce Evans (Australian, 1929-2019) 'University Labour Club banner, May Day March, Flinders Street, Melbourne' 1951

 

Joyce Evans (Australian, 1929-2019)
University Labour Club banner, May Day March, Flinders Street, Melbourne
1951
Gelatin silver print
From We Had Such High Hopes: Student Activism and the Peace Movement 1949-1952, A Photographic Memoir by Joyce Evans (Australian Scholarly Publishing 2019)

 

In far-left, John Clendenin, philosopher and president of University of Melbourne SRC. Banner-bearer Jill Warwick, later a TV Producer, vice-president UniMelb SRC.

 

Joyce Evans (Australian, 1929-2019) 'Want Peace and Freedom, May Day March, Flinders Street, Melbourne' 1951

 

Joyce Evans (Australian, 1929-2019)
Want Peace and Freedom, May Day March, Flinders Street, Melbourne
1951
Gelatin silver print
From We Had Such High Hopes: Student Activism and the Peace Movement 1949-1952, A Photographic Memoir by Joyce Evans (Australian Scholarly Publishing 2019)

 

Joyce Evans (Australian, 1929-2019) 'Richard 'Dicky' Woolcott, delegate to conference, at NUAUS encampment' 1951

 

Joyce Evans (Australian, 1929-2019)
Richard ‘Dicky’ Woolcott, delegate to conference, at NUAUS encampment
1951
Gelatin silver print
From We Had Such High Hopes: Student Activism and the Peace Movement 1949-1952, A Photographic Memoir by Joyce Evans (Australian Scholarly Publishing 2019)

 

Joyce Evans (Australian, 1929-2019) 'John O'Neil' 1951

 

Joyce Evans (Australian, 1929-2019)
John O’Neil
1951
Gelatin silver print
From We Had Such High Hopes: Student Activism and the Peace Movement 1949-1952, A Photographic Memoir by Joyce Evans (Australian Scholarly Publishing 2019)

 

Joyce Evans (Australian, 1929-2019) 'Jenny Lloyd and Clyde Holding' 1951

 

Joyce Evans (Australian, 1929-2019)
Jenny Lloyd and Clyde Holding
1951
Gelatin silver print
From We Had Such High Hopes: Student Activism and the Peace Movement 1949-1952, A Photographic Memoir by Joyce Evans (Australian Scholarly Publishing 2019)

 

 

Joyce Evans Photographer website

Australian Scholarly Publishing website

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27
Mar
13

Exhibition: ‘Primrose – Russian Colour Photography’ at Foam, Amsterdam

Exhibition dates: 25th January – 3rd April 2013

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A bumper posting on a fascinating subject. The portrait of Tolstoy is incredible; more poignant are the photographs pre-World War I (the last days of the Tsarist dynasty), and pre-World War 2 (Portrait of Yury Rypalov, below). People stare into the camera with no idea of the maelstrom about to descend…

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Many thankx to Foam for allowing me to publish the text and photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Varvara Stepanova. 'Red Army Men' 1930

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Varvara Stepanova
Red Army Men
1930
Photomontage for Abroad magazine

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Boris Mikhailov. 'Untitled' 1971-1985

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Boris Mikhailov
Untitled
1971-1985
From the series Luriki

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Vasily Ulitin. 'Flame of Paris' 1932

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Vasily Ulitin
Flame of Paris
1932
Bromoil
Moscow House of Photography Museum
© Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow / Moscow House of Photography Museum

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Dmitry Baltermants. 'Men's talk' 1950s

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Dmitry Baltermants
Men’s talk
1950s
Colour print
Moscow House of Photography Museum
© Dmitry Baltermants Archive
© Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow / Moscow House of Photography Museum

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Dmitry Baltermants. 'Rain' 1960s

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Dmitry Baltermants
Rain
1960s
Colour print
Moscow House of Photography Museum
© Dmitry Baltermants Archive
© Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow / Moscow House of Photography Museum

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Yakov Khalip. 'Sea cadets' End of 1940s

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Yakov Khalip
Sea cadets
End of 1940s
Artist’s colour print
On the reverse side text of congratulation to Alexander Rodchenko
Collection of Moscow House of Photography Museum
© Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow/ Moscow House of Photography Museum

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“The exhibition Primrose – Russian Colour Photography takes place as part of Netherlands-Russia 2013. The title refers to the primrose flower, used metaphorically here to represent the many colours in which it appears during early spring. Primrose – Russian Colour Photography presents a retrospective of the various attempts in Russia to produce coloured photographic images. This process began in the early 1850s, almost simultaneously with the discovery of the new medium itself. The colouring technique, based on the traditional methods of craftsmen who added colour into a certain contour design, has determined a whole independent trend in the history of photography in Russia, from ‘postcard’ landscapes and portraits to Soviet propaganda and reportage photography.

The use of colour in Russia stems from the early 1850s and practically coincides with the invention of the medium itself. The term colour photography is slightly disingenuous, since at first it referred to a toning technique in which black and white photographs were painted by hand. Traditionally this technique was used by specialized tradesmen who added colour to the photographs according to certain methods and within the contours of the image. This technique became so popular that it started a trend in and of itself and to a large extent determined the appearance and aesthetics of colour photography in Russia. Initially used especially for portraits, pictorialist landscapes and nudes, it later also found favour with avant-garde artists. Interestingly enough these aesthetics also formed the starting point for Soviet propaganda and for portraits, political leaders and reportage.

Primrose – Russian Colour Photography can be viewed as a journey through various techniques and genres, meanings and messages, mass practices and individual experiments. The exhibition contains works by renowned photographers and artists such as Sergey Produkin-Gorsky, Ivan Shagin, Dmitry Baltermants and Robert Diament. But is also shows unique photos of Alexander Rodchenko and Varvara Stephanova, and recent works from the famous Luriki series by Boris Mikhailov, in which he mocked the visual culture of the Soviet propaganda.”

Press release from the Foam website

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Pyotr_Pavlov-WEB

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Pyotr Pavlov
Moscow. Lubianka
1910s
Offprint
Collection of Moscow House of Photography Museum
© Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow / Moscow House of Photography Museum

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Piotr Vedenisov. 'Tania, Natasha, Kolia and Liza Kozakov, Vera Nikolayevna Vedenisov and Elena Frantsevna Bazilev. Yalta' 1910-1911

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Piotr Vedenisov
Tania, Natasha, Kolia and Liza Kozakov, Vera Nikolayevna Vedenisov and Elena Frantsevna Bazilev. Yalta
1910-1911
Copy; original – autochrome
Moscow House of Photography Museum
© Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow / Moscow House of Photography Museum

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Piotr Vedenisov. 'Nikolskoye Simbirsk province' 1910

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Piotr Vedenisov
Nikolskoye Simbirsk province
1910

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Alexander Rodchenko.' Race. "Dynamo" Stadium' 1935

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Alexander Rodchenko
Race. “Dynamo” Stadium
1935
Artist’s gelatine silver print, gouache
Collection of Moscow House of Photography Museum
© A. Rodchenko – V. Stepanova Archive
© Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow / Moscow House of Photography Museum

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Dmitry Baltermants. 'Meeting in the tundra' 1972

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Dmitry Baltermants
Meeting in the tundra
1972
From the Meetings with Chukotka series
Colour print Collection of Moscow House of Photography Museum
© Dmitry Baltermants Archive
© Moscow House of Photography Museum

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Installation photographs of the exhibition 'Primrose - Russian Colour Photography' at Foam, Amsterdam

Installation photographs of the exhibition 'Primrose - Russian Colour Photography' at Foam, Amsterdam

Installation photographs of the exhibition 'Primrose - Russian Colour Photography' at Foam, Amsterdam

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Installation photographs of the exhibition Primrose – Russian Colour Photography at Foam, Amsterdam

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Primrose

“This exhibition with the metaphorical title Primrose demonstrates the appearance and development of colour in Russian photography from the 1860s to 1970s, and at the same time reveals the history of Russia in photography. With examples of works from classics of Russian photography such as P. Pavlov, K. Bergamasko, A. Eikhenvald, A. Rodchenko, V. Mikoshi, G. Petrusov, D. Baltermants and B. Mikhailov, as well as unknown photographers, we can see how life in Russia changed in the course of a century as it endured historical and socio-political catastrophes, also the diverse roles that photography played during this period.

Colour became widespread in Russian photography at approximately the same time as in Europe – in the 1860s. This was dependent on the manual tinting of photographic prints with watercolour and oil paints, either by the photographers themselves or by artists working with them. Above all this applies to solo or family portraits commissioned as a keepsake. The photographic studios of Nechayev, Ushakov & Eriks and Eikhenvald produced thousands of tinted portraits that became an important part of the domestic interior.

People were eager to see their own image in colour, and moreover in a picturesque form. The colouring of early photographic shots could also hide imperfections in the prints, including those introduced on albumenised paper. With time this paper turned yellow. To conceal this, the paper was tinted green, pink and other colours and coloured with watercolours, gouache, oils, or later aniline dyes. Sometimes the photograph was partially redrawn during the process of tinting, and foliate embellishments or different items of interior decoration appeared in the background.

By the end of the 19th century, by the 1880s and 1890s, colour photography was extended to architectural, landscape and industrial subject matter. For instance, the photographic studio of the Trinity and St. Sergius Monastery (photographic studios attached to Russian monasteries became a very common phenomenon) produced numerous coloured architectural images of Orthodox churches.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries Russia was on the one hand undergoing active europeanisation, as reflected in the style of architectural structures, interiors, costume and way of life, but meanwhile there was also a search for national identity, and new interest in the national particularities of inhabitants in the Russian Empire. Entire series of tinted photographs appeared, depicting people in national costumes – Russian, Tatar, Caucasian, Ukrainian, and so on.

With the industrial boom of the late 19th and early 20th centuries people began to decorate their walls not only with tinted landscapes, but also photographs of industrial structures (eg Dmitri Yezuchevsky’s photograph Building the Bridge). In the early 20th century, in the 1910s, coloured photographs of Russian military officers, an important social class before the outbreak of the First World War, were particularly popular.

The photographic documentation of life in the Russian Empire in the early 20th century acquired the status of a State objective, largely because Tsar Nicholas II and his family were enthusiastic amateur photographers. In May 1909 Emperor Nicholas II gave an audience to the photographer Sergei Prokudin-Gorsky. In 1902 Prokudin-Gorsky had first announced a technique for creating colour photographs, and in 1903 he published a brochure entitled ’Isochromatic Photography with Manual Cameras’. Prokudin-Gorsky used black-and-white plates sensitised according to his own formulae, and a camera of his own construction. Three rapid shots were taken successively through light filters coloured blue, green and red (the photographer managed to reduce the exposure time to an absolute minimum). From this triple negative a triple positive was prepared. A projector with three lenses in front of three frames on the photographic plate was used to view the shots. Each frame was projected through a colour filter of the same colour as that through which it had been photographed. A full-colour image appeared on the screen as the three images combined. Prokudin-Gorsky succeeded in making polygraphic reproductions of his shots, printed in the form of photo cards, and also as inserts for illustrated magazines.

Delighted with this invention, Emperor Nicholas II asked the photographer to take colour photographs of every aspect of life in the various regions that then constituted the Russian Empire. For this the photographer was issued with a specially equipped railway car. The government provided him with a small manned steamship able to traverse the shallows for his work on waterways, and a motorboat for the River Chusova. A Ford automobile was dispatched to Yekaterinburg for his shots of the Urals and the Ural mountain range. Prokudin-Gorsky was presented with official imperial documents that gave him access to all parts of the Empire, and government officials were ordered to assist Prokudin-Gorsky on his travels.

Meanwhile autochrome pictures by the Lumière brothers, with whom Prokudin-Gorsky worked after emigrating from Soviet Russia, became very popular in early 20th-century Russia. Autochromes, colour transparencies on a glass backing, were first produced on an industrial scale in 1907. Granules of potato starch tinted red, yellow and blue were applied to a glass plate. The granules worked as colour filters. Addition of a second layer of granules provided orange, violet and green hues. After that a light-sensitive emulsion was applied. The plate was exposed and developed. Autochromes could be viewed against the light, or projected with the aid of special apparatus, which at that time was manufactured by the Lumière brothers’ own company (diascopes, chromodiascopes, mirrored stereoscopes, etc.). The Lumière brothers’ autochromes were used, for example, by Pyotr Vedenisov, a prosperous nobleman and graduate of the Moscow Conservatoire, who settled in Yalta, in the Crimea, in the late 1880s. As was the case with the Lumière brothers’ autochromes, Vedenisov’s favoured subject matter was the photographer’s own family life. However, what was at first sight very private and personal photography later provided an excellent description of the typical lifestyle enjoyed by educated Russian noblemen in the early 20th century.

The onset of the First World War in 1914 and October Revolution in 1917 annihilated the Russia whose memory is preserved in the tinted photographs and autochromes of the second half of the 19th to early 20th centuries.

Vladimir Lenin and the new Soviet government actively supported photography in the early post-revolutionary years, seeing it as an important propaganda weapon for a country where 70% of the population were unable to read or write. At first there was emphasis on photo reportage, but very soon it became clear real change in a country where hunger and devastation ruled after the Revolution and Civil War was as insubstantial as the utopian dreams of ardent revolutionaries. From the mid-1920s photomontage was widespread in the Soviet Union, enthusiastically encouraged by the Bolsheviks. Photomontage allowed for a combination of documentary veracity and the new Soviet myths. In the 1920s it was practised by such highly talented modernists as A. Rodchenko, G. Klutsis, El Lissitzky, V. Stepanova and others. Photomontage embraced colour and became an ideological ‘visual weapon’.

From the mid-1920s A. Rodchenko regenerated the forgotten technique of hand colouring his own photographs. His use of tinting profited from his experience with photomontage (Mosselprom House Advertising Wall, Dynamo Running Stadium, etc.), and he also applied it to develop experiments with positive-negative printing (scenes from the film Albidum) and for very personal and even intimate portraits of his muse Regina Lemberg – Girl with Watering Can. In 1937, at the height of Stalin’s repression, A. Rodchenko began photographing classical ballet and opera, using the arsenal of his aesthetic opponents, the Russian pictorialists, who by that time were subject to even harsher repression in the Soviet Union than modernist photographers. For Alexander Rodchenko soft focus, classical subject matter and toning typical of pictorial photography were a mediated way of expressing his internal escapism and tragic disillusionment with the Soviet utopia.

In 1932 general rules for socialist realism were published in the USSR, as the only creative method for all forms of art, including photographic. Soviet art had to reflect Soviet myths about the happiest people in the happiest country, not real life and real people. On this Procrustean bed it was hard not only for modernism with its constructivist aesthetics, but even pictorialism, to fit into the aesthetics of Socialist realism.

Pictorialism was one of the most important tendencies of early 20th-century Russian photography, and Russian pictorialist photographers were awarded gold and silver medals at international exhibitions. Pictorial photography differed not only by the method of shooting and complex printing techniques intended to bring photography closer to painting, but also by the selection of traditional themes. Romantic landscapes and architectural ruins or nude studies were from the point of view of socialist realism dangerous remnants from the past. Some of the pictorialist photographers ended up in Stalin’s prison camps, and were forbidden from practising their profession or settling in the capital or other large cities. Those who remained at liberty – for example, Vasily Ulitin, a participant in major international photo exhibitions and recipient of medals and diplomas in Paris, London, Berlin, Los Angeles, Toronto, Tokyo and Rome – tried with difficulty to adapt to the new reality and attempted to depict revolutionary subjects (Flames of Paris, Red Army Soldier), thereby gaining indulgence and the right to work from the Bolsheviks.

Almost simultaneously, in 1936 the German company Agfa and American company Kodak introduced colour film. Broad distribution and introduction to the amateur photography market were delayed by the outbreak of the Second World War. In the USSR colour photography only appeared at the end of the war. Production of Soviet-made colour film in the USSR was facilitated by German trophy equipment in 1946. From that year onwards Ivan Shagin and several other photographers began to relay their colour news chronicle to the country.

Before 1946 colour photographs of Soviet Russia were made only in isolated cases, on German or American film. Until the mid-1970s, in the USSR negative film for printing colour photographs was a luxury only available to a few official photographers who worked for major Soviet publications. It was used by such classics of Soviet photography as V. Mikosha, G. Petrusov, D. Baltermants, V. Tarasevich, and others. All of them were in one way or another obliged to follow the canons of socialist realism and practise staged reportage. In those days even still life studies of fruit bore an ideological message, being photographed for cookery books in which the Soviet people could see produce that remained absent in a hungry postwar country, where the ration-card system of food distribution was still functioning (Ivan Shagin, Lemons and Fruit, 1949).

From the late 1950s, in the Khrushchev Thaw after the debunking of Stalin’s cult of personality, the canons of socialist realism softened and permitted a certain freedom in aesthetics, allowing photography to move closer to reality (Dmitri Baltermants’ series Arbat Square). In the postwar period, during the 1950s to 1960s life gradually improved and coloured souvenir photo portraits again appeared on the mass market. They were usually produced by unknown and ‘unofficial’ photographers, since private photo studios that had carried out such commissions since the mid-19th century were now forbidden, and the State exercised a total monopoly on photography by the 1930s. Boris Mikhailov copied and enlarged such kitsch colour photographs as souvenirs to supplement his income at his photo laboratory in Kharkov in the early 1970s. He began collecting them. They form the basis for a new aesthetics he developed in the Lyrics series from the early 1980s. By tinting these naïve photographs he revealed and deconstructed the nature of Soviet myths.

Colour transparency film appeared on the Soviet mass market in the 1960s and 1970s. As opposed to colour negative film that requires a complicated and expensive development process for subsequent printing, colour slide film could be developed even in domestic surroundings. Above all it was widely used by amateurs, who created transparencies that could be viewed at home with a slide projector. An unofficial art form emerging in the USSR at this time developed the aesthetics and means for a new artistic conceptualisation of reality, quite different from the socialist realism that still prevailed, although somewhat modified. Photography took a significant role in this unofficial art. It was in the late 1960s and early 1970s that Boris Mikhailov began photographing his series Suzi Et Cetera on colour slide film.

More than half a century of Soviet power after the 1917 Revolution radically altered Russia. The surrounding reality has fallen into decline, and people brought up on Soviet slogans never thought to pay attention. But this was the only reality offered by our perception, and Boris Mikhailov tries to develop its colour, humanise it with his attention and give it the right of existence. Photography textbooks of that period were made up of one-third technical formulae and two-thirds description of what to photograph, and how. The photographer was certainly not required or even allowed to take nude studies. Corporeality and sexuality are inherent signs of an independent individual, of selfhood. The Soviet system specifically tried to level out any sense of selfhood, smothering it and challenging such ideas with the collective community and the impersonal ‘we’ of the Soviet nation. In photographing Suzi Et Cetera Boris Mikhailov disrupts the norms and reveals characters, his own and that of his subjects. It was impossible to show these shots in public, but slides could be projected at home, in the workshops of his artist friends or the small, often semi-underground clubs of the scientific and technical intelligentsia, who began to revive during Khrushchev’s Thaw after the Stalinist repression. Boris Mikhailov’s slide projections are now analogous to the apartment exhibitions of unofficial art. By means of colour he displayed the dismal standardisation and squalor of surrounding life, and his slide performances helped to unite people whose consciousness and life in those years began to escape from the dogmatic network of Soviet ideology, which permitted only one colour – red.”

Curator Olga Sviblova
Director, Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow

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Boris Mikhailov. 'Untitled' 1971-1985

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Boris Mikhailov
Untitled
1971-1985
From the series Luriki

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Vladislav Mikosha. 'Portrait of Yury Rypalov' 1938-1939

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Vladislav Mikosha
Portrait of Yury Rypalov
1938-1939

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V. Yankovsky. '"In memory of my military service". Saint Petersburg' Beginning of 1910s

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V. Yankovsky
“In memory of my military service”. Saint Petersburg
Beginning of 1910s
Collodion, painting
Collection of Moscow House of Photography Museum
© Moscow House of Photography Museum

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Yelena Mrozovskaya. 'Portrait of girl in Little Russia costume. Saint Petersburg' 1900s

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Yelena Mrozovskaya
Portrait of girl in Little Russia costume. Saint Petersburg
1900s
Gelatine silver print, painting
Collection of Moscow House of Photography Museum
© Moscow House of Photography Museum

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A. Nechayev. 'Portrait of girl' 1860s

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A. Nechayev
Portrait of girl
1860s
Salted paper, covered by albumen, painting
Collection of Moscow House of Photography Museum
© Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow / Moscow House of Photography Museum

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Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky. 'Portrait of Lev Tolstoy' 23rd of May 1908

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Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky
Portrait of Lev Tolstoy
23rd of May 1908
Offprint
Collection Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow

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Piotr Vedenisov. 'Uknown woman, the Crimea, Yalta' 1914

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Piotr Vedenisov
Uknown woman, the Crimea, Yalta
1914

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Piotr Vedenisov. 'Andrei Aleksandrovich Kozakov. Yalta' 1911-1912

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Piotr Vedenisov
Andrei Aleksandrovich Kozakov. Yalta
1911-1912
Copy; original – autochrome
Moscow House of Photography Museum
© Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow / Moscow House of Photography Museum

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Piotr Vedenisov. 'Vera Kozakov in Folk Dress' 1914

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Piotr Vedenisov
Vera Kozakov in Folk Dress
1914
Collection of Moscow House of Photography Museum
© Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow / Moscow House of Photography Museum

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Piotr Vedenisov. 'Kolya Kozakov and the Dog Gipsy. Yalta' 1910-1911

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Piotr Vedenisov
Kolya Kozakov and the Dog Gipsy. Yalta
1910-1911
Collection of Moscow House of Photography Museum
© Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow / Moscow House of Photography Museum

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Vasily Ulitin. 'Red Army man' 1932

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Vasily Ulitin
Red Army man
1932

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Dmitry Baltermants. 'Show window' Beginning of 1960s

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Dmitry Baltermants
Show window
Beginning of 1960s
Colour print
Collection of Moscow House of Photography Museum
© Dmitry Baltermants Archive
© Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow / Moscow House of Photography Museum

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Ivan Shagin. 'Fruits' 1949

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Ivan Shagin
Fruits
1949
Colour print
Collection of Moscow House of Photography Museum
© Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow / Moscow House of Photography Museum

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Robert Diament. 'He has turned her head' Beginning of 1960s

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Robert Diament
He has turned her head
Beginning of 1960s
Colour print
Collection Moscow House of Photography Museum
© Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow / Moscow House of Photography Museum

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Mask’ 1994

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