National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of Vladimir Mayakovsky Aleksandr Mikhailovich Rodchenko (artist)
Russian, 1891 - 1956
Vladimir Mayakovsky, 1924
gelatin silver print mounted on tissue paper
overall: 23.8 x 17.5 cm (9 3/8 x 6 7/8 in.)
Patrons' Permanent Fund
Not on View
From the Tour: Modern Portraits in Photography
Object 3 of 13

A student of the fine arts in Moscow for much of the 1910s, Aleksandr Rodchenko (1891–1956) announced the death of easel painting in 1921 with his triptych of red, yellow, and blue monochrome canvases; all artists and art production henceforth were to serve politics and society directly. Throughout the 1920s Rodchenko designed advertisements, film sets, furniture, and numerous publications featuring dynamic, unexpectedly angled camera images and photomontages. Caught like all Soviet intellectuals in an increasingly vicious climate of persecution, Rodchenko concentrated from around 1930 on glorifying Stalinist directives, for example in photographs for the magazine SSSR na Stroike (Building the USSR).

Rodchenko made a series of portraits of poet and revolutionary activist Vladimir Mayakovsky soon after taking up photography in 1924. In this particular image, the visually imposing Mayakovsky is shown in an unmediated frontal view, drained of emotion and staring stonily at the camera. Such unadorned directness had no precedent in ambitious photography, but it clearly evoked the strictly practical world of police photographs. Photography was introduced as a tool to aid in identifying suspects and prisoners during the mid-nineteenth century, and rapidly gained favor as a means of governance and societal control. Here Rodchenko has rejected the look of commercial studio photography—another development of the mid-1800s—in favor of an equally widespread, powerful kind of photographic portraiture deliberately removed from the conventions of traditional painting.

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