During the 1920s, the Soviet government embraced film and photography as tools to spread its message to a largely illiterate population. In this context, Lissitzky made radical photomontages, such as this work, which he described as fotopis (painting with photographs). Runner in the City (Record) is constructed entirely from images by other photographers. Made when Lissitzky was working with members of the Association of New Architects (ASNOVA) on a commission for a sports complex in Moscow, the photomontage combines images in quasi-cinematic effect: a runner, cut out from an unknown publication; a track and hurdle; and a prolonged double exposure of New York’s Broadway theater district at night, shot by Lissitzky’s architect friend Knud Lönberg-Holm and previously published in Erich Mendelsohn’s 1926 album Amerika: Bilderbuch eines Architekten (America: An architect’s picture book). Runner embodies Lissitzky’s fascination with modernity, simultaneity, electricity, and movement.
Working in the early Soviet Union, Lissitzky represented a new breed of photographers who explored the medium by combining reproducible mass-media formats, unconventional lens-based and darkroom techniques, and the artistic intention to achieve novel sensory experiences in their work, which throughout the USSR and Europe was collectively called Neue Optik or Neues Sehen (New Vision). Jettisoning the romantic idea of the artist as individual genius, he instead posited the artist as a conductor or engineer in service of a collective society.
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)