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Le défi des innovations techniques : Les transformations des systèmes de communication

The Conflicted Origins of Soviet Visual Media

Painting, Photography, and Communication in Russia, 1925‑1932
Les débats à l’origine des média visuels soviétiques : peinture, photographie et communication en Russie, 1925‑1932
Angelina Lucento
p. 401-428


In the cultural sphere, the period between the October Revolution and the initiation of the first five‑year plan was marked by a series of heated public debates about the function of visual art and media in the new socialist society. Prominent theorists, including the Commissar of Enlightenment, Anatolii Lunacharskii, and writers associated with the journal Lef, such as Boris Arvatov and Sergei Tret´iakov, participated in these debates, as did modernist artists and realist painters. Photography was a central theme, and by 1925 the question of how the advances in photographic and other forms of mechanical reproduction were changing the nature of the visual had emerged as the debates’ most pressing problem. While all of the debates’ contending factions recognized the significance of photography, they also agreed that the material components of painting—particularly color and surface texture—remained essential to the development of comradely socialist relations. This article brings to light for the first time the aspects of early Soviet thought on aesthetics and communication that led to the firm establishment of painting as a visual medium essential to socialism. It demonstrates in particular that the materiality of painting and its traces were linked to the activation and transmission of the sensations of the body, which were considered necessary for the formation of socialist connections.

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Mediation, Materiality, and Collaboration
Photography and the Visualization of Socialist Circuits : Lef’s Response to Lunacharskii
The Cultural Revolution and the Invention of Socialist Visual Media after Lef and Lunacharskii

First lines

In his 1925 review of Revolution, Everyday Life, and Labor, the seventh exhibition of the Association of Artists of Revolutionary Russia (AKhRR), Anatolii Lunacharskii wrote a sharp critique of the photographic medium. Photography, he argued, in its pervasiveness was beginning to ruin painting, a medium, which he contended was vital to the development of socialism.

The general impression, I repeat, is such that we often get instead of a painting a good photograph colored in a more or less satisfactory manner.
It is imperative that the artist create his own picture, so that it would appear to have been conceived in his blood and nerves, so that it would be his poem, and not a reflection, like a photographic shot [emphasis in the original].

Most of AKhRR’s figurative realist paintings disappointed Lunacharskii. He notes, however, that among the group members there is one painter, whose work does not mimic photography. Lunacharskii describes Fëdor Bogorodskii, who exhibited paintings fro...

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Electronic reference

Angelina Lucento, « The Conflicted Origins of Soviet Visual Media », Cahiers du monde russe [Online], 56/2-3 | 2015, Online since 17 November 2019, Connection on 21 February 2018. URL :

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Angelina Lucento

National Research University‑Higher School of Economics, International Center for the History and Sociology of World War II and Its Consequences, Northwestern university, IL, angelinalucento2012@u.northwestern.eduEN

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© École des hautes études en sciences sociales, Paris.

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