Primrose: Early Colour Photography in Russia
Review of exhibition on early colour photography in Russia
Venue: The Photographers’ Gallery, London, UK
To commemorate the United Kingdom / Russia Year Of Culture, the Photographers Gallery have staged an exhibition of early colour photography to document changes in Russian society from the 1860s to the last years of the Soviet Union. In Russia, the word Primrose symbolises the first colours of spring which is an appropriate analogy for the birth of Russian colour photography in this display.
The exhibition is divided into two parts. Gallery One charts the Tsarist era whilst Gallery Two is dedicated to the post revolutionary period. There are some wonderful examples of hand-painted photographs and collages. Alongside these are colour photographs from established photographers and so the remit of colour photography in this exhibition is considerably wide.
Boris Mikhailov’s kitsch photographs which were hand-painted in his studio in the 1970s and his earlier colour slides depicting the everyday life of people in Soviet Russia are revealing when placed in the context of the mass starvation happening in Russia at that time. Many photographers whom did not follow the party line depicting a contented nation were sent to labour camps.
The Soviet era saw the strict implementation of Socialist Realism propaganda by the regime which is represented in this exhibition by Alexsander Rodchenko’s photo-montages, with red being the predominant colour. Former photo-journalist Dmitri Baltermants’s humanistic pictures of street scenes taken after the Khrushchev thawing of censorship in the 1960s highlight a radical departure from the aesthetics of photography in the Stanilist era.
Other works by photographers in this exhibition include Pyotr Pavlov, Pyotr Vedenisov, Sergey Proskudin-Gorsky, Ivan Shagin and George Petrusov.
Primrose was a well researched and highly interesting exhibition for which the Russian curator, Olga Sviblova, deserves credit. An interview with the curator can be seen below.