Review on Primerose: Early Colour Photography in Russia


I have visited this exhibition at the Photographer’s Gallery in September, on which I am writing a review for my blog. Welcome my thougths, and feel happy to share your’s. ( :

The Primerose exhibition presents the blossoming Russian photography from 1860 to the 1970’s. Both, the history of Russia through photographs and the start then development of colour photography is presented at this show.Screen Shot 2014-12-03 at 20.30.21

All the photos were arranged in historical order, which made it appear as a journal through time. From the 1860’s prints were painted by hand with watercolour and oil paints. First used on portraits and landscapes then used in architecture. Later on colour photography was used as propaganda in the soviet days and artists weren’t allowed to spend their time doing photography as art.

What interested me in this exhibition was, the start of colour photography when artists painted on their photos, the very start of colour photography in Russia and the way artists had to live with the daily soviet politician rules. These two subjects got my attention and although many other important information came across me at this exhibition these draw my attention. Screen Shot 2014-12-03 at 20.30.43

At the beginning of the first showroom, I was taken back to the mid 1800’s Soviet flowery family portraits and Russian landscapes.

To me, what they wanted to show back in the 1800’s so realistically, feels surreal today.  What made it more interesting is the reason of what parts of the pictures were coloured. At first, there was only little colouring, few bits that had to stand out and made it look more real, the lips, clothes and maybe some background. The artist coloured the parts which had to stand out, maybe the beauty of the women or her beautiful cultural clothes. What I had in mind is, why did they colour only parts of the image first? Once they started to paint it why did they only do few bits? They left the part of it grey and some colours. A good example is the picture shown below which is one of a set, by 1910’s V. Yankovsky, PT. Ivanov, and Anonymous.

Screen Shot 2014-12-03 at 19.36.51

He coloured the parts of the clothes that were red, important in military. In this photograph, the soldier’s rank could be it’s significance. The people are photographed in military clothes so that is the main reason of their pictures being taken and the artists uplifted the meanings by outlining the red.

Then came the architectural reasons and the landscapes. Everything was repainted. The coloured landscapes are as perfect paintings.

This image below on the left, was made by Dmitry Yezuchevsky – The Bridge Construction 1880 – 1980’s.

Screen Shot 2014-12-03 at 19.44.50

 By the late 19th century an active process of Europeanization was influencing in Russia, the architecture the clothing and the way of life reflected this at the time.

The second section of the exhibition shows the 20th century’s photographic documentation, it became a priority of the Soviet Empire.

Soviet art had to reflect happy people. Following the WWI the Soviet government supported photography as an important tool for propaganda. In 1932 the USSR adopted socialist realism, as the single acceptable method in art, including photography, there was no place for modernism or pictorialism. Along with the pictorialist trends, Russian photographers received international awards for their art. Pastoralist themes were dangerous references as socialists realism was concerned, for this a number of photographers were baScreen Shot 2014-12-03 at 19.52.48nned from creating art and were moved in to labour camps. Vasily Ulitin was one of the photographers who was freed, found it hard to adapt the reality and tried to portrait revolutionary subjects having been given the right to work by the Bolsheviks.

The way to create art to present in Russia was through the soviets but what they wanted wasn’t really art.

Vasily Ulitin – Red Army Man 1932  Three colored bromoil print (on the right)

Screen Shot 2014-12-03 at 19.56.26  Although the exhibition was not war centred it had a few          pictures that was very strong in appearance. The political life made photography to be a prior documentation. The other example on history I would like to put into this context is the photo collage of Lenin’s funeral, made by Alexander Rodchenko, (Molodaya Gvardia Magazine, 1924 Photo montage with cardboard paper, typographic print and gouache).(on the left) What a powerful montage!

Growing up around family, specifically grandparents but parents as well, who have been through communism I heard a lot about it around the house. Thinking about the fact, back in the time all the people who saw this very same picture of the huge political dictators, what more and strong release and feelings went to all the people who have suffered from their ideas.

Very interesting to see and also a great experience.

If you missed it, you can see all the photographs here,  from where I have presented the photographs shown on my blog and I used photos from The Photographer’s Gallery’s website as well.

T h a n k  Y o u !