Seeing a Century Through the Lens of Sovetskoe Foto

Published in Moscow, Russia, from 1926 to 1991, Sovetskoe Foto (Soviet Photography) was the only specialized photography magazine in the Soviet Union, aimed at a broad audience of professional photojournalists and amateur photographers. As such, it is unequaled in representing the official photographic culture of the USSR throughout the history of this country. In this article, researchers at the Cultural Analytics Lab explore the digital archive of Sovetskoe Foto to find out what it can tell us about the history of this remarkable magazine and the twentieth-century photography in general.

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¿Qué separa a los fotógrafos de los artistas? My article translated into Spanish

"¿Qué separa a los fotógrafos de los artistas?" is my article "Into the Photographers’ Universe: What Separates Photographers from Artists?" translated into Spanish and published in October 18, 2017 edition of MALBA Diario, online magazine of the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires(MALBA), Argentina. 

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The Past is Present: Time and Space in Māra Brašmane’s Photographs of the Riga Central Market

The Riga Central Market is a landmark structure in the center of Riga, capital city of Latvia. It was built in the 1930s.  Renowned Latvian photographer Māra Brašmane has observed everyday life in this market in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and into the 2000s and 2010s. Through the changes in the marketplace you can notice the changes that Latvian society underwent in these decades. 

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The Family of Man: The Photography Exhibition that Everybody Loves to Hate

“The greatest photographic exhibition of all time—503 pictures from 68 countries—created by Edward Steichen for the Museum of Modern Art,” says the cover of the photo-book accompanying exhibition The Family of Man. The exhibition took place at the Museum of Modern art (MoMA), New York, from January 24 to May 8, 1955. It was highly popular—the press claimed that more than a quarter of million people saw it in New York. But it gained its central role in the twentieth century photography history largely because of its international exposure. The U.S. Information Agency popularized The Family of Man as an achievement of American culture by presenting ten different versions of the show in 91 cities in 38 countries between 1955 and 1962, seen by estimated nine million people But, contrary to the popular reception, scholarly criticism of the exhibition was—and continues to be—scathing. 

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FIAP Biennial in Photokina 1956: A Revolt Against the Universal Language of Photography

The leaders of the U.S. and West Germany, international organizations such as the UN and UNESCO, the photography industry, and photographers around the world all shared a similar idealism. Their praise of photography as a universal language, however, was unanimous only in theory. In practice, art exhibitions organized within the framework of Photokina 1956 revealed a chasm between two radically different understandings of photography.

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The Myth of Straight Photography: Sharp Focus as a Universal Language

That photography is a language, and a universal one at that, was a popular metaphor in the 1950s. Such a language, as photographers and politicians claimed, could finally unite all people of the world because it transcends languages, cultures, religions, political positions, and any other differences. Although today such a belief in the power of photography can seem naïve, in the decade following the end of the Second World War it expressed a hope for a better—peaceful—future. But not just any kind of photography was believed to be a universal language. When Rothstein and many others in the 1950s were talking about photography as a universal language, they arguably had “straight,” documentary photography on their mind. But exactly what kind of photography is “straight,” and why it was supposed to be so universal?

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Underexposed Photographers: Life Magazine and Photojournalists’ Social Status in the 1950s

Today, we are used to seeing documentary images by photographers such as Margaret Bourke-White, Henri Cartier-Bresson or Robert Doisneau as fine art prints in art museums and galleries. But most of these images were initially made for the magazine page where the photographer’s name often went unnoticed. The US-based illustrated weekly magazine Life was instrumental in the process of photographers gaining more recognition and global exposure. However, this process was neither smooth nor free of obstacles. 

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Art of the Masses: From Kodak Brownie to Instagram

Art of the Masses:  From Kodak Brownie to Instagram,” Networking Knowledge 8, No. 6 (2015): 1-16.  ISSN: 1755-9944.


In history of photography, new technological developments often have provided a basis for new forms of imagery. These, in turn, are followed by new ways of theorizing the photographic image. For example, the cheapness and ease of use of the Kodak Brownie camera around 1900 gave rise to a massive popularity of amateur photography, introduced the snapshot, and established a tradition of family photograph albums.

Similarly, around 2010 we saw a rise in popularity of a new kind of image-making, image-sharing, and image-viewing device, which I propose to call the networked camera. This networked camera consists of a smartphone with a built-in camera, wireless internet connection, and online image-sharing apps and other social media. The availability of such devices have provided the technological basis for the formation of a new sub-genre of amateur (or vernacular) photography – the selfie. The selfie continues the tradition of photographic self-portraiture yet at the same time presents us with a radically new type of image that demands equally new ways of analyzing it.

Arguments put forward in this article are based in my involvement in research project Selfiecity (2014) led by Lev Manovich and his research lab Software Studies Initiative. This project was based on a dataset of 3,200 selfies posted to Instagram during one week from five global cities: New York, Moscow, Berlin, Sao Paulo, and Bangkok. Research methods included computational analysis (such as software-driven face recognition and use of custom-made data visualization tools) as well as formal and content analysis of each individual image.

This article reveals some of the inherent complexities of understanding the selfie that the methods and findings of Selfiecity have helped to articulate. Seeking for valid methods of theorizing and contextualizing the selfie, this article attempts to combine insights from the perspectives of history of photography and art history, digital humanities, and software studies.
 

Making Sense of the Selfie: Digital Image-Making and Image-Sharing in Social Media

Making Sense of the Selfie: Digital Image-Making and Image-Sharing in Social Media,” Scriptus Manet 1, No. 1 (2015): 47–59. ISSN: 2256-0564.


The article addresses digital photographic self-portraiture in social media (so-called selfies) as an emerging sub-genre of amateur photography. The article is a result of my involvement in the research project Selfiecity (2013-2014), based on the analysis of 3,200 selfies shared on Instagram from five global cities: Bangkok, Berlin, Moscow, New York, and Sao Paulo. This research project was conducted by Software Studies Initiative, a research lab led by Dr. Lev Manovich and based in the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. In this research project, the lab used computational and data visualization methods to analyze large numbers of photographs shared on Instagram. In this article, I situate the selfie in the context of history of photography and seek to inscribe this sub-genre in a broader genealogy of photographic self-portraiture. 
 

Book Review: Toward a New Art History of the Soviet Period

"The Situation is Hopeful: Another Step Towards a New History of Art of the Soviet Period,” review of Recuperating the Invisible Past, compiled and edited by Ieva Astahovska (Riga: Center for Contemporary Art, 2012; 284 pages, 110 ill.), Studija 88 (2013): 70-75.


The effort that the Center for Contemporary Art has invested in making this almost comprehensive survey and evaluation of our cultural legacy from the Soviet period is priceless. This collection of articles marks a major step forward on the way toward systematic and conclusive research of a highly problematic historical period.

At the same time the book sharply highlights the problems which are yet to be resolved, among them those of terminology and methodology. These unresolved issues provide grounds for a positive and hopeful mood: there is still plenty to do for the researchers working in the field, and we can anticipate new discoveries, perhaps even new theories of art history.