“Five Sensational Tweets about Photographs That I Have Not Seen” in Latvian Photography 2018 Yearbook (Riga: FK, 2018).Read More
“Modernist Photography, Data Science, and Global Photo Club Culture: An Introduction to José Oiticica Filho’s “Setting the Record Straighter”” (provisional title) is an introduction to accompany a reprint of Oiticica Filho’s 1951 article whose first translation from Portuguese (by Luisa Valle) I commissioned for a special edition of journal ARTMargins vol. 8, no. 2 (2019), edited by Chelsea Haines and Gemma Sharpe.Read More
Article "Machines, Methods, and Humans: On the Production Line of Contemporary Photography" is published in Fotografija 35, no. 1 (2018). This is a special edition of the magazine “New Tools in Photography: From Google to the Algorithm” edited by Paul Paper.Read More
“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.Read More
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.Read More
A review of the exhibition Anri Sala: Answer Me at the New Museum, 2016, commissioned by the CAA.Reviews.Read More
“Rules of the Photographers’ Universe,” Photoresearcher (journal of the European Society for the History of Photography), No. 27 (April 2017), pp.68-77. Special issue "Playing the Photograph," edited by guest editors Matthias Gründig and Steffen Siegel.Read More
“The Peasant Woman Leads the Dance: Some Ambiguities Presented by Vera Mukhina’s Sculpture,” Russian Art & Culture 1 , no. 1 (2012): 7-15. Winner of the First Prize in Russian Art & Culture Postgraduate Writing Competition 2012. View the full issue of the journal for free here on Issu.
Russian sculptor Vera Mukhina (1889-1953) is most widely known as the artist of the grandiose stainless-steel sculpture Worker and Collective Farm Woman (1937), which crowned the Soviet pavilion in the Paris International Exposition of 1937, strategically located opposite the German pavilion.
However, this sculpture does not exhaust Mukhina’s oeuvre. Another challenging topic for an art historian is her Peasant Woman (1927), recently discussed at length by Bettina Jungen (“Vera Mukhina: Art between Modernism and Socialist Realism,” Third Text 23, no. 1 (2009): 35-43).
In this article, I am addressing some of the issues raised by Jungen, especially the opposition between the formalistic and politicized readings of the Peasant Woman. In addition, this article views Mukhina’s sculpture in terms of gender and class notions of the ideological background from which it emerged. Finally, I also discuss the artist’s relationship with the official art establishment in these terms as well, considering Mukhina’s upbringing in a pre-Revolution bourgeois family and her career as one of few female artists in the theoretically emancipated but in reality largely patriarchal Soviet official art institutions. By identifying some ambiguities in the current criticism and interpretations of Soviet official art, I hope to propose some perspectives for further inquiry that would lead to a thorough understanding of the contradictory and multilayered history of the official art in the Soviet Union.
“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 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.
Excerpt from the review:
Conceived as “a survey devoted to Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Republics,” this exhibition represents a politicized, exoticized, and marginalized view of art from the former Soviet empire, making the Communist past, or, more precisely, the Western notion of it, the central axis of the show.
Deliberately blurred notions of geography and chronology complicate the rational coherence of the show, suggesting that diverse individual artistic practices and cultural backgrounds (from Central, Eastern, Southern, Northern European and Asian countries) belong to the same cultural milieu. Arguably the dialogue of art with a totalitarian regime creates the otherness that the Western audiences most often expect from the art of the former Communist bloc. Emphasizing this dialogue conveys the same simplified identity of the Other that has been continuously constructed in the West since the late 1960s by such seemingly contradictory players as leftist intellectuals and the capitalist art market, according to Éva Forgács.
Ostalgia encourages the canonization of works that reflect the tastes and formal preferences of a narrow circle of mainly Western collectors, and narratives by mainly Russian critics and theoreticians. Art from a large part of Europe therefore seems doomed to be viewed only as a heroic gesture of political resistance that can easily “fit into either the Western or the Russian narrative,” without individual artists, trends, or schools having a distinct, singular voice outside these two grand narratives.
“Five Sentences about Soviet Art,” Dizaina Studija 29, no.2 (2011): 68-70.
Because Latvian art from the Soviet era is at the center of my academic research, I regularly encounter questions which are yet to be explained and solved. To what extent do the artworks from this era display a “Soviet” influence, how much is there of “Latvian” art, and how much is there simply “art”? Should the fact that photography at this time was included in the field of “amateur art” be the defining factor to continue interpreting it as "amateur" from today's perspective? Is it necessary to have a broader insight into the institutional structure of Soviet art and into (no doubt ideological) texts about Soviet art published in the press of that time? Or, alternatively, is it better to have a distanced outsider’s view concentrating only on the artworks themselves, rather than the circumstances of their making? Should we call the era in question the “Soviet period”, or perhaps it is enough to simply mention the decade in which the work was made? But isn’t it also important to remember that it was made under Soviet rule, which resulted in self-censorship and the inhibition of information exchange, personal movement and other restrictions?
“The Language and Value of Things under Communism and Capitalism,” Dizaina Studija 16, No. 6 (2008): 66-74; 86-88.
Photographs published in the postwar Soviet era magazines and newspapers eloquently describe for the next generation the grain and sugar beet harvests in collective farms; the increase in production in significant manufacturing facilities: the huge volume of milk gained from cows and the accomplishment of the five-year plan over a period of three or four years in factories; the triumph of the will of the people over the elements of nature and the continually increasing prosperity of the proletariat. Examining the visual material in chronological order, a gradual change in emphasis can be observed.
There are gradual changes in the choice of scenery and in the formal structure of photographs. The depiction of growth was often politicized in the Stalin era. That later turned into the final tiredness of the period of stagnation which is exemplified by the inexpressive portraits of members of the politbureau and other officials frequently appearing in the press in the 1980s. This tiredness, in turn, soon was shaken up by the unrest of perestroika and glasnost.
Meanwhile, a sort of “golden age” existed among these extremes in the 1970s. That was a time when for many Soviet citizens a certain level of comfort and well-being in everyday life became accessible. When examining photographs that speak of this golden age, it is not possible to overlook the surprising similarities with the ways how Latvia’s current version of capitalism is expressed in press and advertising photographs.
“Art Belongs to the People! Socialist Realism in Photography,” Foto Kvartals 10, No. 2 (2008): 50-67; 95.
Although the term Socialist Realism traditionally is used in relation to painting, sculpture, literature, and cinema, photography of the Soviet era was also supposed to follow this ideology. This article offers a glimpse into the principles of Socialist Realism in the images from the photographic chronicle "Republic in Photographs" that was distributed to Latvian newspapers by TASS / Information agency LATINFORM of the Council of Ministers of Soviet Socialist Republic of Latvia from 1974 to 1978.