The boundaries of art : Soviet photography from 1956 to 1970



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In January 1957, the Soviet Ministry of Culture, assisted by the Union of Journalists, resumed publication of the premiere photography journal of the Soviet Union, Sovetskoe Foto after a sixteen year hiatus. The relative openness of the Khrushchev period, also known as the cultural Thaw, fostered a climate of enthusiasm for photojournalists and amateur photographers, who sought to establish photography as an officially recognized art form. My dissertation argues that between 1957 and 1962, this project seemed achievable; the relative openness of the period offered photojournalists the opportunity to discuss their craft and reconceptualize their work in ways that had been impossible in previous decades. In response to Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin in 1956, it is my assertion that the boundaries of viable visual representation were shifting, and that a previously outcast artistic movement could be reexamined as a way for photojournalists and amateur photographers to demonstrate photography’s aesthetic properties. My dissertation examines the connections between documentary and aesthetic arguments made by Soviet photographers and photojournalists, which complicated the relationship between art photography and photojournalism. In the mid-1950s and early 1960s, professional photographers returned to these discussions in order to elevate their work, make a case for the creation of a union specifically for photographers. This occurred at the same time that mass media began to incorporate 1920s and 1930s avant-garde aesthetics in press and illustrated magazine photographs, making them more accessible to Soviet citizens. The reorientation of Soviet life, towards more private contributions to building socialism, as well as the government and Party’s interest in expanding and galvanizing the press, meant that illustrated magazines were reaching a wider soviet audience. After 1962, however, professional and amateur photographers confronted the realization that their designs for a photography union and higher education were not gaining official support. Photojournalists and theorists at began arguing not for photography as an art form, but rather something in between art and document. Some amateurs, who had originally desired close correspondence with official photographers and photography clubs, began to turn towards unofficial and nonconformist photography, severing their ties with the official community.