WINTERTHUR.- Fotomuseum Winterthur
presents Alexander Rodchenko: Revolution in Photography, on view from May 28th until 14 August 2011. Modernism made photography what it is. It gave it self-confidence and made it trust itself. Self-confident because photography in the 1920s recognized and developed its own possibilities and qualities: a probing vision of the world, an investigation of the visible reality from various perspectives, direct, clear, from above, below, behind, from the front, but without references to the pool of art history. Russian Constructivism is an important part of this great shift. In 1924, Alexander Rodchenko (18911956), already known as a painter, sculptor, and designer, conquered traditional photography with the slogan Our duty is to experiment! This resulted in a reconsideration of the concept and role of photography. Conceptual work entered the stage. Instead of being an illustration of reality, photography became a means to visually represent intellectual constructs, and the artist became an artist-engineer.
Yet Rodchenko was much more than a dynamic image maker. He wrote manifestos to accompany almost every one of his picture series, tirelessly promoting his concept of Russian Constructivism to the world. Destabilizing diagonals, harsh contrasts, tilted views, and picture and text collages are design elements found in his photographs. To this day they form, together with his texts, a unique document of the indefatigable artistic energy that is also manifest in Alexander Rodchenkos posters, invitation cards, and publications.
At the beginning of the 1920s, Rodchenko worked together with his friend the poet Vladimir Mayakovsky on bold, photographic illustrations for Mayakovskys volume of poems Pro Eto. Rodchenko soon became coeditor, with Mayakovsky, of the magazine LEV (Left Front of the Arts), and was responsible for its cover designs in the years 192324. He designed posters for Sergei Eisensteins film Battleship Potemkin and was commissioned to design the Soviet pavilion to the world exhibition in Paris in 1925. The experimental and innovative new vision was celebrated across Europe. Rodchencko took part in the pioneering exhibition Film und Foto (Film and Photo) of the Stuttgart Werkbund in 1929. Yet already at the beginning of the 1930s, the mood had shifted in Russia; photography was increasingly being instrumentalized by the state in the interests of socialism. Rodchenko was repeatedly forced to defend himself against accusations of formalism made over his photograph Pioneer with Trumpet, and, in the end, he was expelled from the October artists group, which he himself had cofounded in 1928, for refusing to adapt his style of working to the new times.