Alexander Rodchenko – Revolution in Photography

Posted filed underAvantgarde, Photography, Politics, Russia, Shows.

Alexander Rodchenko, the Russian avant-garde artist, abandoned painting in the early 1920s in favour of photography. He was convinced it would better express the new visual and social realities emerging at that time. His experiments in photography and photo-collage influenced artists and photographers throughout the 20th century.

“Alexander Rodchenko. Revolution in Photography” at The National Museum in Krakow
“Our duty is to experiment”, claimed Alexander Rodchenko (1891–1956, one of the influential 20th-century artists, a star of the Russian avant-garde and classic of the modern photography. The National Museum in Krakow, jointly with the Moscow House of Photography Museum, prepares a major presentation of the artist’s oeuvre to be shown in Poland for the first time.

The Alexander Rodchenko show will embrace over 300 objects. The main part will consist of over two hundred photographs including, e.g.: Girl with Leica, Stairs, Lily Brik or the series of constructivist urban portraits. We will also see prints with the collages, photomontages and design projects – mainly magazines or book covers and posters. All of the exhibited works come from the Moscow House of Photography Museum.

The Russian avant-garde of the twentieth century is a unique phenomenon not only in Russian, but in world culture. The amazing creative energy accumulated by the artists of this great age is still providing nourishment for artistic culture today and all those who have dealings with the art produced by Russian avant-garde period. Alexander Rodchenko was indisputably one of the main generators of creative ideas and the general spiritual aura of the age. Painting, design, theatre, cinema, typography and photography, all areas invaded by his powerful talent were transformed, opening up radically new paths of development. The early 1920s was an “intermediate age”, to quote Viktor Shklovsky, one of the finest critics and theoreticians of the day, a period when, albeit briefly, illusively, there was a resonance between artistic and social experiment.

It was at this time, 1924, that photography was invaded by Alexander Rodchenko, already a well-known artist with the slogan “Our duty is to experiment” placed firmly at the centre of his aesthetic. The result of this invasion was a fundamental change of ideas about the nature of photography and the role of the photographer. Conceptual thinking was introduced into photography. Instead of just being the reflection of reality, photography also became a device for the visual representation of dynamic intellectual constructions.

Rodchenko introduced Constructivist ideology into photography and developed methods and instruments for applying it. The devices discovered by him spread rapidly. They were used by pupils and like-minded practitioners, as well as aesthetic and political adversaries. The use of the “Rodchenko method”, which included the diagonal composition, discovered by him, as well as foreshortening and other devices, did not automatically guarantee the artistic dimension of a work, however. The practice of Rodchenko the photographer was confused not only and not so much by the formal devices for which he was so mercilessly criticised in the late twenties, as by the profound inner romantic attitude and the powerful utopian thinking of Rodchenko the Constructivist, who believed in the possibility of a positive transfiguration of the world and mankind.

In the 1920s in each new photographic series Rodchenko set new tasks and produced manifestoes on what photography and life would be like after they had been transformed by the Constructivist artistic principle.

Incidentally, in the whole history of Russian photography of the first half of the twentieth century Alexander Rodchenko is the only person who, thanks to his printed articles and diaries, left unique records, artistic reflections by a photographer-thinker who witnessed historical cataclysms and who managed to survive.

His heritage was in good hands of his family: his friend and comrade-in-arms Varvara Stepanova, his daughter Varvara Rodchenko, her husband Nikolai Lavrentiev, his grandson Alexander Lavrentiev, a small, but very close-knit clan charged with creative energy. If it had not been for this family Russia’s first photographic museum, the Moscow House of Photography, might never have appeared.

“Alexander Rodchenko. Revolution in Photography”
The National Museum in Krakow
Main Building, al. 3 Maja 1
Until 19th August 2012

- Review at the Wall Street Journal – “Partial Portrait of a Russian Artist” – Politics wreaked havoc on Alexander Rodchenko’s career, and continues to play a role in the splendid exhibition of his work at the National Museum in Krakow.

Image above: Alexander Rodchenko, “Lilia Brik. Portrait for the poster Knigi”, 1924, Vintage print, Moscow House of Photography Museum

Alexander Rodchenko and the Russian Avantgarde

This film by Michael Craig of Copernicus Films is a compilation of extracts from a larger documentary film about Rodchenko’s search for new visual frontiers.

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The film is part of a series of six documentaries about the Russian avant-garde. For more information about this series check our site at