Saint Alexander Nevsky Monastery, Leningrad, USSR | Masha Ivashintsova |1977July 21, 2023
Saint Alexander Nevsky Monastery, Leningrad, USSR | Masha Ivashintsova | 1977
I was not born
to amuse the
— Alexander Pushkin
I loved without memory: is that not an epigraph to the book, which does not exist? I never had a memory for myself, but always for others.
— Masha Ivashintsova
Masha Ivashintsova has been described as a ‘Russian Vivian Maier‘ as she took so many photographs – creating a world, in a way, of her city – in her lifetime but most of them have only been shared since her death. Her eye for contemporary life under the Soviet regime – especially in St. Petersburg later Petrograd later Leningrad then again St. Petersburg (the shift in name and what that entails in the socio political sphere is a good place to stand, when considering Ivashintsova’s photographs) – was an honest and personal portrait of her life and times. One might argue that the veracity of these experiences captured with her lens were – are – so honest and powerful that we can understand why she held them to herself for so long. Her own personal history was also painful, and that was surely a factor, too.
Or, perhaps as I allude to with the quote from Pushkin, autocratic, authoritarian societies prefer facile propaganda and punish uncomfortable truths….
Ivashintsova (1942 − 2000) was a photographer based in Saint – Petersburg (then Leningrad, in the USSR) “who was heavily engaged in the Leningrad poetic and photography underground movement of the 1960−80s. Masha photographed prolifically throughout most of her life, but she hoarded her photo-films in the attic and rarely developed them. Only when her daughter Asya found some 30,000 negatives in their attic in 2017 did Masha’s works become public.”(from here)
“Struggling with life under Communism, by the mid-1980s Masha was committed to a mental hospital against her will, as a way to get her in line with the USSR’s philosophies. Working throughout her life as a theater critic, librarian, cloakroom attendant, design engineer, elevator mechanic, and security guard/riflewoman, she was a chameleon, always camouflaging her inner artist. Only through her diaries and photographs was she able to show her true self.”
A fine article – and interview – with her daughter Asya Ivashintsova-Melkumyan can be enjoyed here. A site devoted to Ivashintsova’s amazing archive can be seen here : as well, there is a social media page that shares her work at regular intervals here.
~ Bart GazzolaRead More
The Polaroid Book : Selections from the Polaroid Collections of PhotographyJanuary 5, 2023
The Polaroid Book : Selections from the Polaroid Collections of Photography
Edited by Steve Crist, Essay by Barbara Hitchcock
As a photographer, and especially as one who has shot a lot of instant film, I could wax poetic about the wonders of the Polaroid film process; that it was invented in 1947 by Edwin Land and his Polaroid Corporation; that he formed a partnership with Ansel Adams to explore the artistic capabilities of the medium in 1948; that Land and the Corporation made hundreds of cameras and film available to artists around the world on the condition that they gave some of their images to Polaroid’s collection of photos. I could tell you that it was THE photographic medium of the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s and that creating a photo was indeed as easy as “Push, pull!”. However, there are so many writers and photographers out there who have extolled the virtues of the process over the last 75 years that I can’t possibly say anything new.
The Polaroid Book : Selections from the Polaroid Collections of Photography tells the story in 254 photographs by 203 artists. The photos include black and white documentary and landscape images taken with the cumbersome early models of the Polaroid line of cameras to incredibly immersive large format color images made by celebrated artists and fashion photographers. The creativity in these polaroids is boundless. From Adams to Warhol with a little Close and Hockney in between, Polaroids were a tool used by well (and lesser) known artists to create stunning pieces of work. Chuck Close’s Self-portrait (seen below) stands out; a mosaic made up of 9 separate images to create a large, somewhat disjointed selfie in Close’s trademark (and usually painted) style.
Perusing this book will lead you to want to try capturing this photo-magic yourself, which you can do by using Fujifilm’s Instax line of film and cameras. Anecdotal evidence points to these colourful, well designed cameras acting as lures to teens everywhere to further explore the possibility available to them in analog photography as a creative outlet. It is one of the reasons that film sales are quickly growing again after years of domination of the market by digital photography.
The Polaroid Book is available from numerous online and bricks-and-mortar retailers.
~ Mark WaltonRead More
Walker Evans – James R. MellowMay 19, 2022
James R. Mellow
Basic Books; Revised ed. edition (Oct. 11 2001)
Walker Evans is one of the most famous American documentary photographers of the past 100 years and his images will stand for another hundred at least. While every serious photographer is familiar with his work (the best known of which was shot during the 1930’s for the U.S. Farm Security Administration as per the examples below), there have been relatively few books that discuss Evans as a man. James R. Mellow captures his complexities in this eminently readable biography, published in 2001.
What makes particularly interesting reading is Evan’s evolution as an artist, from failed student in the Mid-West US, to failed writer in Paris, to acclaimed photographer on his return to New York in the late 20’s and early 30’s. The book quotes extensively from his letters and other writings. One can almost hear him speaking… I imagine his voice to be a low pitched, slow drawl; a mix of Henry Fonda, Peter Coyote and Alan Rickman (minus the accent).
Evans comes across as dour and fatalistic, yet strangely still likeable. Much of his writing describes his unhappiness with things as they are, whether it be his annoyance with his mother, his dissatisfaction with the quality of the prints made from his negatives or his despondence about his romantic relationships. Many of his friendships with other famous artists are discussed, including Ben Shahn, Steven Crane and Hanns Skolle.
The book offers details about the trips Evans made to do his photography and specifically the trips he made with author James Agee as they worked on the seminal Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Evans plays the role of aesthete opposite Agee’s sensualist, the collision of which resulted in a book acclaimed for its intimacy and realism… a strong documentary account of the lives of sharecroppers and their families in the American South during the Great Depression.
It is sad but somehow inevitable that Evans ends his days as somewhat of an alcoholic / academic recluse. Mellow’s reliance on Evans’ own words leave you feeling as if you really knew him, that you cared about him, but weren’t overly close to the actual man behind the photographs, because of his determination to keep people at bay.
Walker Evans by James R. Mellow is available from numerous online retailers.
~ Mark WaltonRead More