The First Exhibition of Fine Art Photography in Latvia after World War II. 1957-1958

The First Exhibition of Fine Art Photography in Latvia after World War II. 1957–1958,” Art History & Theory 15 (2012): 26-33. Article in Latvian with a summary in English.

The article examines the complicated history behind the organization of the first “fine art photography” exhibition in Latvia after the end of the Second World War.

After a prolonged process that included several rounds of open photography competition, public meetings of photographers, and correspondence with Moscow, the exhibition finally opened in Riga in 1957.

Solid historical evidence about the show has been extremely difficult to find. After several years of research, I did not succeed in finding a single photo documentation of the exhibition or even a full list of exhibited prints. Nevertheless, I succeeded in tracing some of the correspondence and discussions behind the organization of the show in the archives. Besides, the event was discussed in the press of the time. Based on the information I managed to glean from the various sources, in this article I offer a partial reconstruction of this landmark exhibition.

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The few publications on photographic art in Latvia after World War II mention the first postwar exhibition of photographic art as a sort of milestone – this was the Fine Art Photography Exhibition that opened in Riga on 29 December 1957. However, this significant event in Latvian photography deserves a more detailed study. The article provides an overview of the facts gathered so far, delineating the series of events related to the organization and course of the first Fine Art Photography Exhibition as well as the field of issues in need of further research.

Despite the numerous organizational and technical flaws, the Fine Art Photography Exhibition seen in Riga in late 1957 and early 1958 should be viewed as the beginning of a new period. It was a precedent for specialized shows of photographic art, moreover in a prestigious museum; it encouraged photographers’ self-esteem and voiced a greater need for photographic education. In addition, the exhibition exposed the problem of the difference between photographic art and photo journalism for the first time in the post-war period; there were ardent discussions on this issue in the following decades and they continue to this day.