About the Publication

  • Left: Aleksandr Rodchenko. Mat’ (Mother). 1924. Cover of Sovetskoe foto, no. 10 (October 1927). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of The Judith Rothschild Foundation. Right: G. Petrov. Portret Romen Rollana (Portrait of Roman Rollan). Cover of Sovetskoe foto, no. 7 (July 1935).

    Sovetskoe foto (Soviet photography) was a Moscow-based journal dedicated to photography and photographic techniques. It was inaugurated by the writer and editor Mikhail Kol’tsov in April 1926 and acquired in 1931 by the Ogonek publishing company. In the interwar period, the journal experienced two pauses in publication—one between 1931 and 1933, when it was renamed Proletarskoe foto (Proletariat photography), and another between 1942 and 1956, due to World War II and the war’s aftereffects. Although its publication schedule was at times irregular, Sovetskoe foto was an illustrated monthly featuring editorials, letters, articles, and photographic essays alongside advertisements for photography, photographic processes, and photographic chemicals and equipment. It primarily addressed a domestic audience of Soviet amateur photographers and photo clubs, yet it also featured the works of international and professional photographers, such as Semyon Fridlyand. It was in the pages of Sovetskoe foto that the works of avant-garde photographers, including Aleksandr Rodchenko, were denounced as formalist (implying that they reflected a foreign and elitist style), even before Socialist Realism was decreed to be the official style of the Soviet Union, in 1934. In a letter published in April 1928, an anonymous author accused Rodchenko of plagiarizing the subject matter and compositions of Western European photographers László Moholy-Nagy and Albert Renger-Patzsch. This resulted in the journal’s boycotting Rodchenko’s work and prompted the artist to respond directly, in June 1928, in Novyi lef, a journal for alternative art and culture. The tensions between so-called leftist avant-garde photographers and photographers of and for the people culminated in 1931 with the formation of the Russian Association of Proletarian Photo Reporters (ROPF), which promoted its mission to use photography as “a weapon for the socialist reconstruction of reality” in Sovetskoe foto.[1] Throughout the 1930s this state-sanctioned journal became increasingly conservative in its promotion of a photographic practice that valued content over form, a shift dramatically represented in the 1927 and 1935 covers (reproduced here).

    —Ksenia Nouril

    [1] Jorge Ribalta, introduction to The Worker Photography Movement (1926–1939): Essays and Documents (Madrid: Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, 2011), p. 16.

  • Language(s) Russian
  • Dates Surveyed 1926–39

Additional Photos

Spreads from P. Krasnov. “Profili masterov: Aleksandr Rodchenko” (Profiles of masters: Aleksandr Rodchenko). Sovetskoe foto, no. 7 (July 1935)

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