10 May 2012

Currently Under Construction

Selections from the blog I Collect Soviet Books. The author of which, it appears, has recently come into possession of many copies of U.S.S.R. in Construction. Originally established by the writer Maxim Gorky, the magazine was published throughout the 1930s, and (as you can probably deduce from the spreads above) was part of a state propaganda campaign to promote Stalin's series of Five-Year Plans.

That aside, the magazine was also notable because the publishers called upon many leading Russian photographers and designers of the era to provide and shape content; which at times included El Lissitzky and his wife Sophie Lissitzky-Küppers, as well as the husband-and-wife team of Alexander Rodchenko and Varvara Stepanova. This last fact is more than a little ironic, seeing how a number of these artists were at the forefront of the Constructivist avant-garde movement during the prior years. Ironic, because the publication would also (eventuallY) ecome an instrument for promoting the Kremlin's shifting aesthetic policy under Stalin -- a shift away from "decadent" avant-gardisms such as Constructivism and towards Social Realism as the official art of the Soviet state. John Heartfield also contributed to the magazine during its later years.

Throughout the various issues you see many of the common visual tropes of Russian photography and graphic design (as well as typography) of that era. First there's the low-angle shot -- the heroic framing of the isolated figure (be it a persons, buildings, monument or machine). These often combined and montaged with the wide-angle, aerial views -- meant to depict and convey not only the scope of a huge collective enterprise, but also the scale of the country's efforts toward modernization. And as the author of the I Collect blog notes, there's also the glorification of Soviet expansion into various provinces, as well as the appearance by an occasion figure who would later be airbrushed out of the history books.

Upon further googling, it appears that the University of Saskatchewan has an incomplete collection of the journal, with full credits and PDF scans of each issue that they've obtained. Here's a couple from the fourth issue, as laid out by Rodchenko and Stepanova...

The above are (I presume) from the international edition of the journal, which was printed in a multi-lingual editions. If you run searches on the thing, you find conflicting information as far as the dates and enumeration of issues. It appears that the Russian edition may have featured different topics, covers, etcetera from those printed for audiences outside the Soviet Union. For instance, there's a seventh issue in Russian (dated 193_) devoted to the life and work of poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, also designed by Rodchenko...

Of which there's a gallery of scans for the issue here. There's also several galleries extensively devoted exclusively to the graphics of the publication here if you scroll to the bottom of the page.

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