More than two hundred works, most of them original prints, were on show at this unique exhibition; this is the first time that archives of Soviet photography have been presented on such a scale. Many of the photographers' names, such as Aleksandr Rodchenko and Dmitri Baltermants, are known throughout the world. Most of the works in the exhibition were originally intended for publication in print. Some of the photos were taken for private use or for exhibitions.
The time period during which the photos were taken extends from one revolution (1917) to another (1991). The exhibition gave a clear idea of the development of Soviet photographic esthetics and its breakdown with the collapse of the system. Soviet photography closely followed the country's social events. After the Revolution of 1917, the enthusiasm that permeated the entire society led to magnificent artistic achievements in photography, but as the initial fervour dissipated the pictures became more mundane. Their subject matter ranged from grand political mass parades to pitiful orphans, from casualties of war to sublime athletes and individual worker-heroes. While official photographers were once objective reporters, they became creators who selected from situations and their subjects those aspects that showed the common cause in the best possible light. Photographers assumed a public role; they became part of the state apparatus. The depiction of private lives was relegated to amateur photographers, and even private photos taken by professionals remained in the family archives – some of these are now being made available to the public.
USSR – Soviet Photography 1917-1991 presents images that shaped Soviet identity. They are a visual representation of what we think the letters USSR stand for.