Russian graphic art and photographic pioneer, Aleksander Rodchenko, unquestionably exemplifies photography’s ability to deceive, empowering a nation through photo montage and modern graphic propaganda. However, underneath this masquerade lies a darker, twisted reality. Rodchenko was a political speaker, yet, no speech was apparent. Aesthetically his imagery is similar to the word of a politician, representing a chosen ideology by a means of patriotic encouragement incorporating emblematic examples of an industrialised unification, intent on success. The influence is subtle, genius and so overwhelmingly dominant to the perceptions of a society.
Rodchenko’s similarly-aligned political propaganda and commercialist advertising, under the communist reign and socialist guise of the USSR, both intended on a consequential manifestation of political ideology to the masses. Effectively encapsulating the glorifying success of the Soviet Union. I am to focus, in relativity to my own artistic interests, on the elements of collage, montage and alteration within Rodchenko’s more politically motivated work. Although Rodchenko has an eclectic range of artistic creations varying in purpose, I will be reflecting on notions of photographic trickery, its impression on the industrial revolution and a graphical construction of quintessential nationalism, ringing home chants of the Soviet Unions success by means of patriotic appraisal.
At the forefront of a 1920s photographic revolution, Rodchenko adopted unconventionality as an artistic motif. A move away from painting, earlier denounced in Moscow, was followed a by an artistic transference to the graphic arts and photography. Aleksander Rodchenko proceeded to push the boundaries of photography and in the 1920’s, photographers that were in line with the avant-garde developments looked to incorporate alternative angles within their work. Angles from a low view directed up and vice versa. This suggested that the photographer had an alternative perspective on life, seeing things that others may not. The multitude of innovative perspectives and contemporary developments seized by Rodchenko, invite you to partake in a sort of photographic revolution, so relevant as a reflection on the ideologies and intentions of a nation thriving with political muscularity.
Aleksander Rodchenko was a master of photo montage, producing political propaganda for the likes of USSR leader Joseph Stalin. A prime example of the photographic trickery intended on radically inspiring a nation, is Rodachenko’s, 1933, photo montage for Stalin’s glorious construction of a canal that connected both the White Sea and Baltic sea. The image features the White Sea Canal, notorious for its immense power and patriotic importance, alongside a crowd of supporting workers and their defiant and noble leader. Through montage, Rodchenko subtly combines multiple elements to produce a gripping, empowering and triumphant depiction of the proposed mannerisms of the USSR, in line with the wondrous dictatorship’s egotistically emphasised accomplishments; a photographic measurement of power that implies no sign of weakness. Rodchenko’s montage however, deceives the viewer. The said ‘crowd of workers’, on closer inspection, reveals a harsh reality. In actual fact, the crowd are the unfortunate political prisoners of the state, not the mass of political proletarian support that we perceive. ‘Stalin’ is also not in the image, the figure on the right is actually a guard watching over the prisoners, an unsettling thought when revealed.
When inspected further, the faces of individuals in the crowd bare expressions of despair, perhaps the downfall of Rodchenko’s genius, or perhaps a harsh reality that Rodchenko may have intentionally revealed. In light of the truthful reality, from a westernised point of view and through modernised hindsight, the propaganda seems unbelievably non-influential to our trained eyes. At the time however, amidst a politically decorative society already pushing the boundaries of propaganda, people were perhaps more perceptible to a consequential inducing of political ideology, rendering images such as this as truth; a fundamental process necessary to the functionality of communism. As if a step towards George Orwell’s depictions of communist refinement in his critically acclaimed ‘1984’, Rodchenko crafts a deceiving vision through montage that helps shape Stalin’s path to political dominance.
A key element of interest, baring relation to my own project, is Rodchenko’s means of conveyance. Although his work has not always worn the clothes of communist expression, Rodchenko’s political portrayals are emblematic of my own concepts, in that the purpose of the art is to provoke a sort of psychological activism and conscious contemplation as a consequence of the work. As my own work moves more towards the depiction of a harsh modernised reality, where by our society is eroded by the impending smite of modernity. My desire is to invoke some sense of awareness, realisation and self-contemplation through a comedic yet patronising take on the harsh realities we face today, and in the not so distant future. However, my work follows Rodchenko’s purpose but does not link to the patriotic drive evident in his more politically motivated work.
These 1918 politically driven collages also inspire my own work. The aesthetic ambience, simplified humour, jagged cut and paste techniques and choice of printed emphemera time-stamped with a 1930s grandeur, are all elements included in my own photomontage process. In a comedic, slapstick-style, the bizarre juxtapositions of curios paper cut outs create a surreal and rather open artistic intention. The representation leans towards the powerful militarised and industrialised USSR, as a representation of dominance, but, is also emblematic of the adverse side effects of war and a strongly motivated political conquest. Whether intended or not, Rodchenko’s work often demonstrates a weakness of the very radical political agendas he set out to glorify. Perhaps acting as a personally-comforting scape goat when the impending Soviet downfall loomed over in 1953. A subtle and patriotically unsettling element of uncertainty towards the continued success of the political policies backed by a nation of questionable supporters.
The emphasis on industrialisation, patriotic unison and nationalist glorification within Rodchenko’s work, aspired to capture the eye of a nation and to drive the communist powerhouse to greatness. Achieved through, montage, collage, photography and graphic design, the seemingly imperishable image of the defiant USSR is visually retracted by the viewer, momentarily contemplated and then acted upon. Through the nature of propaganda, that decision may unconsciously be swayed to the advantage of the creator, a concept Rodchenko excels in adopting. The conveyance of an idea, perceived through an image and then acted upon, is an ideal outcome for my own photomontage. I look to reinforce notions of a future in decline and the hazardous effects of modern society’s more sensitive subjects. Taking inspiration from Rodchenko’s genius techniques, utilised within his propaganda, I seek to produce collage that will use this bold, comedic and simplified wittiness to manifest self-realisation and consequential actions, both physically and as a way of life.
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