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"War and Peace: Soviet Press Photography"
2004-05-28 until 2004-07-17
Giedre Bartelt Galerie
Berlin, , DE Germany

On The exhibition presents a complete collection (created in the 70s) of Soviet press photography. Virtually all pictures are of high aesthetic quality, and most prints are technically excellent. Moreover, the choice of subjects provokes a strong impression of the ideology and cultural policy of the Soviet Union during the Brezhnev era. The collection consists of several convoluts that used to be shown in various combinations at travelling exhibitions in the foyers of so-called palaces of the press and palaces of culture, as well as in Soviet army clubs and in institutions of higher education, frequently on the occasion of political festivities and anniversaries.

The collection is a kind of Soviet equivalent or (ideological) continuation of Edward Steichen's famous "Family of Man": the most notable similarities lie in the choice of prestigious artists and typical motifs, their technical quality, and in their mostly large format intended for public presentation. Another parallel can be discerned in the Soviet cinema of the time.

World War II remained in the Soviet Union an important subject for decades afterwards. Whilst in the movies the war was being re-enacted, in photography new pictures could again and again be produced from the old negatives. All photographers in this exhibition are represented with pictures from World War II or its immediate aftermath. Apart from Yevgeny Khaldey's pictures of the Nuremberg tribunal which are well-known in Germany (and especially in Berlin) and Ivan Shagin's shot of the Berlin tram, there are works by less famous Russian war photographers such as Viktor Tyemin and Aleksandr Ustinov. The Stalingrad motifs by the Uzbek Georgi Zelma also belong to the rarer images; Selma made himself a name with his artistically developed "constructivist view" of post-revolutionary collectivism; his oeuvre was recently presented at a retrospective exhibition in the Museum of Fine Arts in Santa Fe/ USA.

Apart from the heroic deeds of World War II, the ideological myths of the Stalinist pre-war years industrialisation, heroic work and motherhood were used to educate and uplift the dozing, stagnant Soviet society under Brezhnev. The miners and the brigade's eldest as a happy mother by Mark Markov-Grinberg or the kolkhoz-farmers by Aleksandr Ustinov from the 30s and 40s must have looked like the ideal figures of greek myths in the totally uninspiring world of socialist work.

Only very few contemporaries were deemed worthy of reception into the Soviet "Family of Man": apart from Soviet artists and heros like the sculptor Sergey Konenkov, Marshal Georgi Zhukov, the cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin and an unknown test-pilot, there are pro-Soviet global celebrities from the world of politics and culture: Fidel Castro, Salvador Allende, Ho Chi Minh, Charlie Chaplin, as well as the ethnographically exotic looking inhabitants of Chukotka, photographed by Dmitri Baltermantz in the 60s and 70s.

Added to the exhibition are a few later prints signed by the author Yevgeni Khaldei, also his portrait and one of Georgi Zelma, both by Aleksandras Macijauskas, the doyen of Lithuanian photography.

Mark Markov-Grinberg
Meeting of Explorers of Tcheluskin Cape on the Red Square

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