In all forms of art, there are masters that serve as inspiration, some well-known, others not so much. For me, Aleksandr Rodchenko is one of the main artists that attracted me to photography as an art form, rather than a documentation tool.
Born in Russia in 1891, Rodchenko was one of the pioneers of Russian and Soviet art and a founding artist of the constructivism movement. Rodchenko was one of the most versatile constructivist and productivist artists to emerge after the Russian Revolution in the early 1920s. Initially, he worked as a painter and graphic designer before turning to what we will be talking about; photomontage and photography.
His photography has been described as socially engaged, formally innovative, and opposed to a painterly aesthetic. His photography is often viewed as an abstract documentary, or in his words:
“One has to take several different shots of a subject, from different points of view and in different situations, as if one examined it in the round rather than looked through the same key-hole again and again.”Aleksandr Rodchenko
By the early 1930s, Rodchenko fully embraced photography as a tool for social commentary. His main subject depicts the disparity of the Soviet experience, the rosy idealism against the harsh reality. Not to be confused with Socialist Realism – the official style of art in the Soviet Union in 1934 – Rodchenko’s work purposefully contrasted this.
Soviet critics found Rodchenko’s photography too formalist at times, the juxtapositioning of strong heroic figures in an arduous too real setting. Nevertheless, he continued to find support for his work outside of the USSR. Exhibits in Germany’s Film und Foto: Internationale Ausstellung des Deutschen Werkbunds at the Städtische Ausstellungshallen in Stuttgart, Fotomontage at the Staatliche Kunstbibliothek in Berlin. And later on in America’s displays of Cubism and Abstract Art (1936) and Abstract Painting: Shapes of Things (1941) at MoMA, and later Mezinárodní Výstava Fotografie at the Manes Exhibition Hall in Prague.
Rodchenko died on December 3, 1956, in Moscow.
By 1927, Rodchenko had fully stopped his painting focusing on his photography work. His camera of choice was a Leica.
In the picture above you see a simple scene of a woman carrying her child ascending a staircase. What makes the image interesting, and engaging is the stark contrast. The stairs are on an untraditional angle of 45 degrees, (a Dutch angle), the subject is sitting on a third, and there is a beautiful contrast of light and shadow.
In his other photos, we see unique and interesting angles being used to encapsulate composition techniques beautifully. Here are a selection of my favourite :
Title: two buildings, 1928–1929
Medium: gelatin silver print
Size:15.5 x 23 cm. (6.1 x 9.1 in.)
Title: Säulen des Revolutionsmuseums , 1926
Medium: Gelatin silver print
Size: 30 x 24 cm. (11.8 x 9.4 in.)
Title: Portraits for a series, 1926
Medium: Gelatin silver print
Size: 6.75 x 9 in. (17.1 x 22.9 cm.)
Use composition techniques!
Composition is one of the most important elements of photography. It involves arranging the various elements of a photo in a way that is visually appealing and helps to communicate the message or story you want to convey. Whether you’re taking photos of landscapes, people, or still life, understanding the principles of composition can help you create powerful and impactful images. Here are a few key elements to consider when composing your photos:
- Rule of Thirds: One of the most well-known principles of composition is the Rule of Thirds. This involves dividing your image into thirds both horizontally and vertically, and placing your subject at one of the intersecting points. This creates a more dynamic and visually interesting image than placing the subject directly in the center.
- Lines and Shapes: Paying attention to the lines and shapes in your photos can help you create a sense of movement and flow. Diagonal lines, for example, can create a sense of motion and energy, while curves can add a sense of grace and fluidity.
- Depth: Creating a sense of depth in your photos can add a greater sense of realism and immersion. This can be achieved through techniques. A shallow depth of field blurs the background. Or placing objects at varying distances from the camera to create a sense of foreground and background.
- Framing: Using natural or man-made elements to frame your subject can add interest and context to your photos. This could be a tree branch framing a sunset, or a doorway framing a person.
- Balance: Creating balance in your images can help to create a sense of harmony and stability. This can be achieved through techniques such as using symmetry or balancing the visual weight of different elements in the photo.
Play around with these various principles to recreate famous images, and develop your own style
With practice and patience, you too can create stunning, professional-looking photos that truly capture the essence of what you set out for. For me, working on photo documentary as art is an ongoing process.
Who is your favourite photographer? Let me know in the comments!