Alexandre Rodtchenko essay

Russian avant-garde of 20th century is the phenomenon unique not only in the Russian, but also in the world culture. Blinding energy of creation produced the artists of this great epoch and even until now feeds a modern artistic culture and each of us, contiguous from an art-production epoch of Russian modernism. Alexandre Rodtchenko, certainly, was one of the main generators of creative ideas and general spiritual aura of this time.

Painting, design, theater, cinema, printing, photography… – all areas of artistic culture, in which mighty talent of this prominent person intruded very beautiful and very strong man, suffered transformation, opening on principle new ways of development. Frankly speaking, to my mind, creation of Alexandre Rodtchenko deserves much more attention and more careful study in any photographic environment. As compared to his works many pictures of the acknowledged modern photographers seem not the simply second, but by pitiful and wretched copies, in spite of the fact that they are executed with new super megapixel technique. I want to discuss Alexander Rodtchenko creative way in this paper and discuss how he became so popular in the word of photography.

It is hard not to notice, as we try to open all possibilities in a picture. As in remarkable fiction, in sleep, to striking reality we open all wonders of picture. From subsidiary and imitative – to both etching, either painting or carpet is a picture, breaking forth on an own road, all blossoms and breathes inherent by it aromas. Extraordinary possibilities are opened. In my opinion in the context of previous information it is necessary to talk about the way of Rodtchenko formation, because exactly this way help to this person to choose own way of existence and formed artistic talents and desires.

A. Rodtchenko became the reformer of photo esthetics. Alexandre Rodtchenko, except for professorial activity (as we remember he was a professor), made with great success book illustrations and show boards. His partner was Vladimir Mayakovski – true reformer of literary style. At first Rodtchenko ordered snapshots photographers, but, as results of surveys dissatisfied him, he had decided to capture a photographic art independently. A talented person in the shortest time captured photo art to perfection, so that it on the protracted term moved away his picturesque and designer-artistic employments. As Ash said: “a revolutionary epoch in Russia knocked down not only an economic line-up but also all preceding ideology. Hot heads suggested to send on dump histories even Pushkin’s and Repine’s works.”ť1 Fortunately, to it business did not reach, but all new aesthetic positions were vigorously found. There were endless directions: futurism, cubism, constructivism… Rodtchenko waded in reformation of picture. An imitation painting was throw-away. Photography was conducted from the unusual foreshortening and with an unusual prospect. Unique points and moments of survey were found, sharp contrasts were filled by imprints.

Describing Rodtchenko’s way to the world of art and photography, we should mention that Rodtchenko came in a picture as the already                                                                                     



1. Ash, Jared and others.  The Russian Avant-Garde Book 1910-1934, 2002.

formed artist. It happened in 1924. After years he reminded that in 1923-1924 a photomontage pushed him to engage in a picture. In the first photos is returning to abstraction. Photo ”“ is almost pointless. The tasks of composition stood on the first plan. Estimation of the works too cutting and synonymous, as in that 1924 «Portrait of mother», well-known master psychological portrait, is taken off a year. The series of portraits of V. Mayakovski are done in 1924. Biography of artist argues that his address to the picture was inevitable. 1923-24 year, style of soviet architecture and design, cinema and theater, printing and advertising gives birth. In each of these areas of creation Rodtchenko opened new facilities of expressiveness and created original works. Architecture, design, advertising, printing attracted him by the novelty of technical receptions, breadth of possibilities of artistic creation. What was a picture for Rodtchenko, before he began to take pictures? Sources of employments it is possible to see a picture in his first works and photomontages. An artist, working in this area, uses the prepared elements of printing graphic arts: invoices, photo images, headings, texts. Just and a photographer takes off the objectively existent world. As early as 1916 Rodtchenko made the series of compositions out of varicolored pieces of wallpapers. A rhythm and color, whimsically base lined, gave an unusual pattern.

In 1919 Rodtchenko again speaks to the technique of collage. Passing could become a next step to the photomontage, but Rodtchenko creates another series of works, as intermediate on the character. They are done from mixed pre-product: texts, heading and pictures. Yet not taking up photography, Rodtchenko built photocompositions, although used for it already by someone turned out material. Perchance, for this reason among his works there is not a student’s composition works. He at once began to work as master. But he studied right through the whole his life.

Master studied to see the world and own a technique. As compared to the equipment of other photographers of that time a photographic technique of Rodtchenko was most ordinary. It once again argues that not enough to have a modern technique, it is much more important to have new ideas and desire to experiment, constantly to put itself new tasks in area of subject, composition, terms of survey.

Saying about collages we should quote information from Rodtchenko’s official web site, where we read the next: “A Constructivist, Rodtchenko was one of the earliest photo-collagists. Some of his favorite themes were sports, the circus, festive processions and the Soviet way of life. He successfully experimented with close-up photography, and “the lens of his camera discovered objects of unusual architecture, rhythm, and plasticity” in objects removed from their usual surroundings. “The viewer who sees only a study in the picture of the glass jug illuminated from behind fails to appreciate the masterly composition, the noble purity of the lines, the rich plasticity of the form and consequently also the poetry and beauty of the picture, and still more important, its specifically photographic qualities” (Karginov, Rodtchenko).”ť2



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Uniting topic of style and techniques of Rodtchenko’s work we could define their main characteristics in this paragraph. Rodtchenko inculcated ideology of constructivism in a picture, developed the methodical tool of its realization. The receptions opened by him were swiftly circulated. They were used by both his students and like-minded persons and aesthetic and political opponents. However, self on itself the use of «method of Rodtchenko», including opened them diagonal composition, foreshortening survey and other receptions, did not guarantee the artistic scale of picture automatically. Practice of Rodtchenko-photographer appeared involved not only and not so much on formal receptions for which he was mercilessly criticized already from the end of 1920th, how many on deep internal romanticism, inherent him as early as student years (it is enough to remember his surprising letters-fairy-tales which he wrote to his future wife in the first years of their acquaintance). It the romantic beginning, stopped up in childhood, conducted behind the scenes of theater, where his father worked, was transformed in powerful utopian thought of Rodtchenko-constructivist, believing in possibility of the positive transforming of the world and man. In 1920th Rodtchenko in every new photographic series puts new tasks and creates the manifests about what a picture and life, transformed the constructivism artistic beginning must become. In 1930, especially at the end of 1930th, exhausted criticism and persecution, he tries to analyze life, and artistic practice, including own, the evolution of which defined the aesthetics of socialistic realism folded later in a great deal. By the way, in all history of the Russian picture of the first half of 20th century Alexandre Rodtchenko – unique, who due to the printing articles and diary’s records, left unique certificates the artistic reflection of photographer-thinker, carrying out the creation conscious. I also want to add to this paragraph that getting tired from continuous revolutionary transformations, creating reality, distant from ideals, inspiring the early period of his creation, on February 12, 1943 he marks in a diary: «An art is service people, and people conduct in various directions. And I want to conduct people to the art, but not to conduct an art somewhere. Did I was born early or lately? It is necessary to dissociate an art from a policy».3

So, for Rodtchenko by a central argument in behalf on the unexpected foreshortenings of survey («from top to bottom» and from a «bottom to top»), abludent from a traditional horizontal line, to the peculiar picture optics, pointing serves on that ideological luggage which carries with itself every formal system. Trying to reanimate the forms of traditional art by their filling new, «revolutionary» maintenance, we retransmit ideology of this art, which in a new context acquires reactionary sense simply, inevitably. Similar strategy is under laid concept «photo pictures», «centrist» block of soviet picture offered representatives, forming group round a magazine the «Soviet photo» and its editor. For avant-gardes a «photo picture» is symptom of artistic restoration during which conservative part of the artistic stage tries to take revenge and take

3. Bowlt, John. “Aleksandr Rodchenko Experiments for the Future: Diaries, Essays, Letters, and Other Writings”, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2005.


Cultural Revolution to the «revolutionary subject». Revolution is in a picture, and it consists of that the taken off fact due to quality (“as taken off”ť) operated so strongly and unexpectedly by all photographic specific, that could not only compete with painting but also showed every a new perfect method to expose the world in science, to the technique and in the way of life of modern humanity.

Thinking about main elements of technical choice we should say that a avant-garde picture is built on visual paradoxes and displacements, on «unrecognizing» of acquaintances of things and places, on violation of norms of classic pictorials, ranged on the rules of direct prospect. Objective foundation of all this «deforming» work is formed by economic feasibilities of picture, but at the same time it equation of artist gains character with the mechanical eye of camera, purposeful and active mastering of new spheres of experience, opened due to a photographic psychic expansion. There are formal receptions, which the «left» photographers come running to specify on action above contemplation, transformations of reality above its passive perception. They tell a spectator as though: self contemplation of one or another object is an active process, plugging in itself pre-election of distance, foreshortening, scopes of shot. It is proclaimed that “none of these parameters is obvious, not set beforehand as nothing is in itself understood and effluent from the course of natures, because no «natural order» in general does not exist.”ť4 The look of user is consistently substituted for the look of producer.


In photographic practice of production workers it is possible to select three basic formal strategies. On the whole their sense can be taken to defining of active position of observer in relation to the article of supervision, of principle possibility of «other» vision of «life» which can not be outspent some to one, canonical, by the point of view.

Photographers-constructivists come running for this purpose, at first, to the reception of «foreshortening», when a camera occupies arbitrary position to the line of horizon. Essence of this reception, ascending to principle of «radical convertibility» in early photomontages, consists in displacement of anthropomorphous co-ordinates, organizing space of pictorials. According to this information we know that about the language of geometrical abstraction and photomontage reminds other reception, direct-coupled with «foreshortening» and also based on «decanonization» of perspective space – reception of «similar figures». The question is about frequent duplication or varying of one form, one standard element of photo-utterance. But if in a photomontage, making of animated cartoon of element is arrived at artificially, by physical interference with an image, in a direct picture the proper effects are revealed in reality which the same «artifying», acquiring the lines of text-recitative – or production conveyer. The artificial prevails above natural. Human will find own reflection in things.

A avant-garde draws conclusion from preceding history of culture, from its «Romanization», opening the prospect of the uncompleted future. Not for nothing it is engendered in the moment of the sharp strengthening of decadent moods in the European culture. In reply to them avant-garde is turned by the look already not in mythical or epic the past, but in the future, and decides to endow that cultural «complication» which accumulated in itself experience of previous failures. To historically conditioned present avant-garde is contrasted by the absolute future which closes up with prehistoric the past, from what in the forefront of signs are so widely used archaic, primitive and infantile.

Thus, in the evolution of avant-garde motion is traced from the denial of modern industrial civilization to its integration (certainly, recurrent motions also take place periodically). Achievements of technical progress can and must be turned against own negative consequences. New technologies, including machine industry, transport, mechanical reproduction, cinema, from the mechanisms of alienation and fragmentation of life grow into the instruments of the utopian constructing of the unalienated world. On the new coil of the development, reeving the way of liberation, society «goes» back into the classless, universal state and a culture acquires syncretism character again.

However, aiming to realize utopia of integral, unalienated life, avant-garde renounces attempts to stage this integrity within the limits of «one, separately taken» picture at the same time. The future is in present rather negatively – as wounds and breaks, indicative on the incompleteness of the world and on the prospect of the absolute future. And it in final analysis returns avant-garde in the context of art of new time

Rodtchenko is not an ordinary photographer, but many-sided artist, who always tried to attain maximal visual expressiveness, completeness and integrity. He operates, foremost, by visualizations, visual facilities of composition.

According to his opinion, composition it is the conscious system of placing of elements, influencing through a number of accents: light, shade, form, structure of image. Rodtchenko saw the objects it is underline structurally – whether it belongs to the portraits or experimental picture, to the genre or sporting surveys. Ash emphasized that “the constructivism of vision and rangeability of thought were drawn by him from his picturesque works in 1917 – 1921 years.”ť5 However, much Rodtchenko didn’t dwell thereon. He developed photographic composition farther, adding sense of space depth and objectivity of photographic fact.

Discussing Rodtchenko’s works destination it is necessary to note that works of Rodtchenko were included in the art of picture through a print. In the second half of 20th century it was published more than one hundred of his pictures.

Natural, that they had influence on a process picture, caused mass of responses, from confession to sharp non-acceptance. «Portrait of mother», in which is find simplicity, psychology, realisticness of manner. Thus, one works of master were naturally included in the cultural situation of 20th century, other caused the revision of usual criteria of estimation, as, for example, foreshortening picture «House on Myasnickaya street», done in the autumn of 1925.

I want to once more remind that a picture became one of the privileged methods of expression for constructivism – this fact is well-known. But yet shortly before it a self word «picture» personified all that, what front-rank, radical art does not wish to be.

5. Ash, Jared and others.  The Russian Avant-Garde Book 1910-1934. 2002.

A picture equated with the superficial, mechanical printing-down of reality, concentrating in itself worst qualities of traditional art. A avant-garde matched against it, from one side; research of language of art in his no interaction and «opacity», from other – ideology of free form activity, unreserved a necessity to represent the present system of things. Within the framework of this ideology conception of life building was formed, that does the problem of convergence of avant-garde and picture especially intriguing. «Point of view» of Rodtchenko, as well as from where he showed the world, defined the artistic innovation of master, aesthetics of his pictures. The same «point of view» became one of central that polemic in the photographic press of end 1920th are beginnings of 1930th and served the main direction of many reasons of Rodtchenko about a picture.

Thus, taking into account all above mentioned it is necessary to make a conclusion that contribution of Rodtchenko to the soviet and world photographic art it is impossible to over-estimate today. A man is scalene talented, leaving track in many, so different areas of culture, Alexandre Rodtchenko brought in a picture in truth an invaluable deposit. Looking over in a young art yet not opened, by nobody the not found out possibilities, he pawned bases of modern photo-report.

As for every earliest explorer, he had failures. He often and sometimes was criticized sharply. As we understand now, far not always justly. Creation of Alexandre Rodtchenko forever entered in history of soviet and world picture. And herein is the best confession of his talent. It is known that his manner of survey and increased attention to textures at one time adopted by young Helmut Newtone. Sure, there is a great deal, what can learn from the pictures of Rodtchenko: it and unexpected application of foreshortening, and highly artistic use of natural and artificial rhythmic of images. In his creation you will find the elements of producer (raising) portraits and able use of photomontage in advertising, and master transmission of prospect and volume on a plane. Rodtchenko not simply found the style, he, out of doubt, had influence on style of all Soviet epoch. Obviously, in foundation of success of Rodtchenko in a photographic art lie five constituents: creative environment of his family (a father was a theatrical property-man), artistic education (Kazanskaya artistic school), talent, great labor and claimed by time. It is known that many masterpieces give birth on the joint of arts, on the joint of professions and specializations. Besides the picture of Rodtchenko constantly engaged in painting, graphic arts, spatial constructions, he developed original furniture, sceneries and suits. Analyzing details of Rotdchenko’s way to the photography we see that it was not an easy way, but I think that person with a great wish to be successful in something and like own hobby will do all possible and impossible with the purpose to achieve own aim. Today there are many photographers, whose pictures, yet not giving birth, become old and languid, because they initially on something apply, initially contain far-fetched, unapt for life concept. But a fervor reigns in works of Rodtchenko, life seethes in all its displays. Perhaps, there is not that genre, in which Rodtchenko did not create a masterpiece. His pictures demonstrate boundlessness of approaches and disorderly conduct of ideas till today.

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