The Soviet Avant-Garde

August 10th, 2021

The Soviet avant-garde is a set of modernist artistic movements of the 1910s-1930s. It was part of the European art and had some connections with. Moreover, it influenced art throughout the world. Its most prominent representatives are Alexander Rodchenko and Sergei Eisenstein whose work is the invention of new forms and possibilities. Their creations are considered as a huge experiment where each work is a picturesque element limited in its expressive means.

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Alexander Rodchenko

To start, one has to state that the Soviet photographer is a completely different type of photographer. Their photos also are different stylistically, thematically, and psychologically from pictures taken in other countries. Firstly, the Soviet photographers were intoxicated by the great ideas of the Bolshevik revolution in the early 20s of the 20th century (Kachurin 67). Additionally, they were besotted by the belief in a new era and wonderful life. At the time, the task of creating a new mass culture and the necessity of mass production stood at the forefront. Thus, photographers looked for new techniques and types of expression, and simple reportage photography went by the wayside and was replaced by constructivist compositions and experiments with photomontage.

Alexander Rodchenko is one of the founders of non-objective painting, the ideologist of constructivism and leader of Soviet photography. His work is important due to the fact that he appealed to the areas of photography such as portrait and reportage demonstrating his innovative approach and rejection to follow established traditions of photography (Kachurin 69). For example, he made the great contribution to the development of the genre of the photo essay. Moreover, he first resorted to the shooting of a man in action that allowed obtaining a collective and documentary-figurative representation of the model. Therefore, Rodchenko considered the camera as a tool absolutely necessary for the modern artist.

Rodchenko created his own canons which ensured his works the pride place in the modern textbook of photography. As an example, the series of portraits of Mayakovsky became a classic of close-up shots in which the photographer rejected all traditions of the pavilion shooting. Another very important step is a radical change of subjects of pictures (Kachurin 71). He valued documentary photography as a means of displaying the lives of people from the unusual angle that gave photography a realistic form. In the early twenties, individuals were depicted in static poses, but Rodchenko believed that photography is the only truthful art that accurately depicts life in the moments that make up its movement (Kachurin 72). Thus, it was necessary to take photos of the current life and show it under various angles that made it possible to capture and open contents of an object or even a whole social phenomenon.

Rodchenko brought the ideas of constructivism, using lines and planes showing the space and dynamics on the shot. From the array of these experiments, one can distinguish two important aspects that he opened for the world of photos and which are still relevant (Kachurin 74). As it has been mentioned above, the first technique is angle shooting. In the era of airplanes and skyscrapers, a new art had to teach to see all sides and show familiar objects from an unexpected point of view. So, Rodchenko was particularly interested in views such as top-down and bottom-up. This is one of the most popular approaches today, but it was a real revolution in the twenties. The second innovation is diagonal, and Rodchenko identified the line as the basis of any image. Therefore, the line became the main structural element in his photography. To sum up, Rodchenko’s art is not only a reflection of reality but a way of visual representation of dynamic mental structures.

Sergei Eisenstein

Another unique and, to some extent, metaphorical phenomenon of the Soviet times is filmmaking. Its distinctive peculiarities were formed gradually due to the efforts of people who later became the heroes of their generation. Sergei Eisenstein was among them, and his art contributed to the cinematography by enriching it with new ideas, social and revolutionary fervor. In 1923, he published a programmatic article ‘Montage of Attractions’ in which he made emphasis on how to influence the psyche of moviegoers through a variety of circus and film methods (Eisenstein 23). He also skillfully used the symbolic imagery, mapping, and comparison of the visual force of individual scenes. Thus, he turned the technical findings of dynamic contrast and frame into truly artistic findings that emotionally affected the viewer.

His famous work the Battleship Potemkin is one of the best silent films that had impact on the development of world cinematography. A spectacular combination of incongruous within a single frame was supplemented with a metaphorical change of scenes able to create new meaning that set Eisenstein’s work apart from others in cinematography (Eisenstein 31). This movie is associated with the so-called theory of intellectual cinema. Einstein believed that during the mounting of the two images the third one was created, and it contained ideological aspects (Eisenstein 43). In addition, he considered that through the intellectual movie, the certain topics can be transferred to the screen revealing the variety of concepts. So, Eisenstein was one of the first in the world of cinematography who realized and implemented in practice a fundamental principle of cinema itself giving it the necessary for the historical context revolutionary changes.

Battleship Potemkin has a number of innovations. First of all, Eisenstein rejected the narrative structure of the film; so, the adhesion of episodes is based on the principle of occurrence of the series of collisions. The accent montage stresses the joints, suddenly bringing the viewer from one place to another, dramatically confronting people, objects, ideas, rhythms, and phrases (Eisenstein 67). The form in his film is driven not by a plot but grows on the basis of the thin association of different elements. Moreover, Eisenstein believed that the influence of the composition is possible out of the story (Eisenstein 81). Thus, Battleship Potemkin does not have a traditional plot; instead, the material is organized according to the principle of the chronicle. Despite this, the film acts like a drama, and the impression is achieved by means of mounting. Hence, the real content of the scene turns into a montage, which also exists in form and content. Eisenstein considers the main idea of the film as a strong impact on the psychology of the audience, guiding their thoughts and feelings (Eisenstein 56). The viewers do not only see the represented elements of the work, but they go through a dynamic process of the formation of the image as experienced by its author. All in all, the complex metaphorical film language, the unusual mounting system, and innovative imagery set this film apart from other Eisenstein’s works.


In conclusion, it should be mentioned that the works of both artists, Sergei Eisenstein and Alexander Rodchenko, are the evidence that the creative process includes emotion and the mind of the viewer who is forced to make the same creative road that the author went through. As for me, Rodchenko’s works impressed me immediately by their groundbreaking spirit and visual thinking. He has also changed my view towards the idea that photography should not be limited only to fixation but should also represent the ideas and philosophy of the artist. As for Eisenstein’s work, it changed my previous views on the creative process, and now, I consider it as the union of emotions and mind of both the director and viewers. There is one common characteristic of Rodchenko and Eisenstein’s works, in particular, the viewers see not only the represented elements of their art, but they appeal to increase the activity of the audience. So, the main and decisive criterion of their works is the expression of the artist, his individual experience, and position.

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