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Press Release

Nailya Alexander Gallery is pleased to present Arkady Shaikhet: Selected Photographs 1920s-1930s, the first New York exhibition of one of the founders of Soviet photo reportage. Shaikhet was an innovator, who helped create a new aesthetic to match the needs of the newly established Soviet State. The exhibition, featuring some forty vintage photographs from the family estate and a few private collections, will run from 5 November 2010 through 15 January 2011 at the Nailya Alexander Gallery, in the Fuller Building at 41 E 57th Street, Suite 704. Gallery hours are 11am-5pm, Tuesday through Saturday, and by appointment.

This exhibition has been made possible thanks to the knowledge and generous support of Maria Zhotikova, the granddaughter of Arkady Shaikhet. A special opening reception in her honor will be held on November 4th from 6 to 8pm.

Arkady Shaikhet (1898-1959) was born in the city of Nikolaev (Ukraine) into a lower middle class Jewish family (his father was a wholesale beer trader and his mother had a seamstress shop). He moved to Moscow in 1922 where he found work as a retoucher at the Rembrandt studio. His first photographs were published in 1923, and he soon joined a group of young talented photographers who helped establish the USSR’s most important illustrated magazines. In 1924, at the age of 26, he became one of the leading photojournalists for the newspapers Krasnaya Niva and Moscow Proletarian. The following year, Shaikhet joined the staff of the national magazine Ogonyok and from the very beginning his photographs were used for the covers. Shaikhet was one of the founders (together with famous journalist Mikhail Koltsov) of Soviet Photo in 1926 and from 1930 on, he actively contributed to USSR in Construction. Because of his close collaboration with Mikhail Koltsov, Shaikhet’s career skyrocketed between 1924 and 1931, and he became a leading photojournalist in the country.

The need to build a new country after the destruction from both the Bolshevik revolution and the Civil War called for master photographers with innovative techniques. These photographers were asked to reflect reality in a new way, to present the new Soviet person, and to shape a new culture. Photography was truly employed on a grand scale as the Soviet authorities were realizing the power of the photographic image as means of propaganda. Experimentation with the photographic language and energetic discussions about art (problems of form and style, in particular) facilitated the creation of a new visual style in Soviet photography, and put Soviet photographers on a par with their foreign colleagues in Paris, Berlin and New York. Arkady Shaikhet was one of the photographers involved in the creative experiments, although he by no means considered himself a member of the avant-garde, preferring to record life ‘as it is.’

Shaikhet’s style stands out for its thematic diversity, emotionality of images and the experimental quality of compositional techniques. His well-observed character types – komsomolka, tax inspector, peasant, and cadet – all shot in their natural surroundings, became covers for leading publications in the 1920s and 30s. These images owed their expressiveness to the special connection that the photographer was able to establish with his subjects during the working process. They became posters for their time. Shaikhet was constantly looking for ways to renew the photographic language that he used. This was likewise an objective of ‘leftist’ formalist photography, in which Shaikhet undoubtedly took an interest although he was a member of ROPF (the Russian Association of Proletarian Photographers) and had a clear understanding of the boundaries of the permissible in magazines that were aimed at the masses.

In Shaikhet’s approach we sense a constant striving to create a compositionally fresh, striking, and memorable shot. In “Inauguration of the Shatura Power Station” (1925) Shaikhet was able to convey both the grand scale of the festive event and the massive structure of the object itself. In order to make his photographs more expressive and underline monumentality of form, Shaikhet often used a low camera angle to ‘elevate’ the central figure, as in his “Komsomol Member at the Wheel” (1929) and “Assembling the Globe at the Central Telegraph” (1928). Another technique was to show details close up, as in “Gasholder” (1930). To impart the scale and emotions of the socialist construction project Shaikhet opted to photograph from a high angle. Examples are his “The First Turksib Locomotive Engine” (1930), “From Upstairs: New Apartments” (1928) and “First Cars from the Gorky Automobile Factory” (1930). The dynamism of this period required photographs to be full of movement and Shaikhet liked to employ a diagonal composition, as seen in his “Red Army Marching” (1928) and later in his famous “Express” (1939), which became a canonic image of Soviet Russia moving into a socialist future.

Strict and precise framing and an ability to arrange a fragment in a striking and unusual way helped Shaikhet embody symbols of the new universe in his photographs. Acuity of composition and approach to space in some of Shaikhet’s images resonate with the aesthetic sensibility seen in the German ‘New Objectivity’ movement, the industrial works of Albert Renger-Patzsch and the Bauhaus school.

Arkady Shaikhet received a diploma of First Degree for his achievement in photography at both historic Moscow exhibitions Ten Years of Soviet Photography (1928) and Exhibition of Masters of Soviet Photography (1935). During the 1930s Shaikhet participated in several exhibitions abroad under the auspices of the All-Union Society for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries (VOKS). Shaikhet’s work occupies a significant place in the history of Russian art alongside that of his peers Alexander Rodchenko and Boris Ignatovich. His photographs have become classic examples of Soviet photographic art and reportage.