Download 437 Issues of Soviet Photo Magazine, the Soviet Union’s Historic Photography Journal (1926–1991)

The ear­ly years of the Sovi­et Union roiled with inter­nal ten­sions, intrigues, and ide­o­log­i­cal war­fare, and the new empire’s art reflect­ed its uneasy het­ero­doxy. For­mal­ists, Futur­ists, Supre­ma­tists, Con­struc­tivists, and oth­er schools min­gled, pub­lished jour­nals, cri­tiqued and reviewed each other’s work, and like mod­ernists else­where in the world, exper­i­ment­ed with every pos­si­ble medi­um, includ­ing those just com­ing into their own at the begin­ning of the 20th cen­tu­ry, like film and pho­tog­ra­phy.

These two medi­ums, along with radio, also hap­pened to serve as the pri­ma­ry means of pro­pa­gan­diz­ing Sovi­et cit­i­zens and car­ry­ing the mes­sages of the Par­ty in ways every­one could under­stand. And like much of the rest of the world, pho­tog­ra­phy engen­dered its own con­sumer cul­ture.

Out of these com­pet­ing impuls­es came Sovi­et Pho­to (Sovet­skoe foto), a month­ly pho­tog­ra­phy mag­a­zine fea­tur­ing, writes Kse­nia Nouril at the Muse­um of Mod­ern Art’s site, “edi­to­ri­als, let­ters, arti­cles, and pho­to­graph­ic essays along­side adver­tise­ments for pho­tog­ra­phy, pho­to­graph­ic process­es, and pho­to­graph­ic chem­i­cals and equip­ment.”

Sovi­et Pho­to was not found­ed by artists, but by a pho­to­jour­nal­ist, Arkady Shaikhet, in 1926 (see the first issue’s cov­er at the top). Though its audi­ence pri­mar­i­ly con­sist­ed of a “Sovi­et ama­teur pho­tog­ra­phers and pho­to clubs,” its ear­ly years freely mixed doc­u­men­tary, didac­ti­cism, and exper­i­men­tal art. It pub­lished the “works of inter­na­tion­al and pro­fes­sion­al pho­tog­ra­phers” and that of avant-gardists like Con­struc­tivist painter and graph­ic design­er Alek­sander Rod­chenko.

The aes­thet­ic purges under Stalin—in which artists and writ­ers one after anoth­er fell vic­tim to charges of elit­ism and obscurantism—also played out in the pages of Sovi­et Pho­to. “Even before Social­ist Real­ism was decreed to be the offi­cial style of the Sovi­et Union in 1934,” Nouril writes, “the works of avant-garde pho­tog­ra­phers,” includ­ing Rod­chenko, “were denounced as for­mal­ist (imply­ing that they reflect­ed a for­eign and elit­ist style).” Sovi­et Pho­to boy­cotted Rodchenko’s work in 1928 and “through­out the 1930s this state-sanc­tioned jour­nal became increas­ing­ly con­ser­v­a­tive,” empha­siz­ing “con­tent over form.”

This does not mean that that the con­tents of the mag­a­zine were inel­e­gant or pedes­tri­an. Though it once briefly bore the name Pro­le­tarskoe foto (Pro­le­tari­at Pho­tog­ra­phy), and tend­ed toward mon­u­men­tal and indus­tri­al sub­jects, war pho­tog­ra­phy, and ide­al­iza­tions of Sovi­et life dur­ing the Stal­in­ist years. After the 60s thaw, exper­i­men­tal pho­tomon­tages returned, and more abstract com­po­si­tions became com­mon­place. Sovi­et Pho­to also kept pace with many glossy mag­a­zines in the West, with stun­ning full-col­or pho­to­jour­nal­ism and, after glas­nost and the fall of the Berlin wall, high fash­ion and adver­tis­ing pho­tog­ra­phy.

Fans of pho­tog­ra­phy, Sovi­et his­to­ry, or some mea­sure of both, can fol­low Sovi­et Pho­to’s evo­lu­tion in a huge archive fea­tur­ing 437 dig­i­tized issues, pub­lished between 1926 and 1991. Expect to find a gap between 1942 and 1956, when pub­li­ca­tion ceased “due to World War II and the war’s after­ef­fects.” Aside from these years and a few oth­er miss­ing months, the archive con­tains near­ly every issue of Sovi­et Pho­to, free to browse or down­load in var­i­ous for­mats. “Dig deep enough,” writes pho­to blog PetaPix­el, “and you’ll find some real­ly inter­est­ing (and sur­pris­ing­ly famil­iar) things in there.” Enter the archive here.


via PetaPix­el

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The His­to­ry of Rus­sia in 70,000 Pho­tos: New Pho­to Archive Presents Russ­ian His­to­ry from 1860 to 1999

Thou­sands of Pho­tos from the George East­man Muse­um, the World’s Old­est Pho­tog­ra­phy Col­lec­tion, Now Avail­able Online

Down­load Russ­ian Futur­ist Book Art (1910–1915): The Aes­thet­ic Rev­o­lu­tion Before the Polit­i­cal Rev­o­lu­tion

Behold a Beau­ti­ful Archive of 10,000 Vin­tage Cam­eras at Col­lec­tion Appareils

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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