The following passage is extracted from “La questione moderna in Europa. 1923-1948“, the inaugural volume of the “Anthology of graphic culture“ series. The author of this insightful piece, titled “The Fotomontage“, is none other than Ljubov’ Popova, a distinguished figure in Russian constructivism and a faculty member at Vchutemas. Notably, her contribution is preceded by an introductory text penned by the editors — Silvia Sfligiotti, Alessandro Colizzi, and Carlo Vinti — providing context and framing Popova’s significance in this literary endeavor.
Defined by Osip Brik «The most radical of us all», Ljubov’ Popova (1889-1924) was active in different fields of design, from visual communication to scenography, always in a revolutionary key. The photomontage was published in 1923 in LEF, the magazine of the Left Front of the Arts, accompanied by a montage by Paul Citroen and one by the author, made for a theatrical setting (to which the second part of this article is dedicated but not report here).
In this concise passage, Popova advocates for the heightened communicative prowess of photography, a precise and documentary medium. She underscores its superiority over alternative forms of representation, particularly evident in its application in political-social communication and advertising. Notably, during the twenties or thirties, photography witnessed significant growth in these realms, ultimately shaping modern commercial communication.
Furthermore, photomontage emerges as a means to amplify the impact of photographic images by skillfully composing disparate elements. Popova encourages an independent approach to photography, urging a departure from mere imitation of other artistic forms. Instead, she advocates a keen awareness of the medium’s distinctive characteristics, emphasizing their comprehensive utilization.
The photomontage. Ljubov’ Popova
By photomontage we mean the use of a photographic shot as a depictive tool. The combination of photos replaces a composition of graphic illustrations.
The meaning of this substitution lies in the fact that the photographic shot is not the sketch of a visual fact, but its exact fixation. This accuracy and documentation give the shot a power of impact on the viewer that no graphic representation can ever match.
A hunger poster with pictures of starving people impresses far more than a poster showing the hungry themselves.
An advertisement with the photo of the advertised object is more effective than a design of the same subject.
The photographs of cities, landscapes and faces work on the viewer a thousand times more than the corresponding pictures.
Until now, qualified photography, the so-called artistic photography, has tried to imitate painting and drawing, so its results were mediocre and did not reveal the potential that photography has. The photographers were convinced that the more a photo resembled a painting, the more artistic and better it would be. But in reality the result appears reversed: the more artistic, the worse. Photography has its own editing possibilities that have nothing in common with the pictorial composition.
And that is what needs to be highlighted.
As models of photomontage by us in Russia we can indicate the works of Rodchenko in its covers, posters, advertising and illustrations (This by Majakovsky)¹. The works of George Grosz and other Dadaists stand out in the West. […]
¹ Of this (Pro eto) is a poem by Vladimir Majakovskij published in 1923 and illustrated by photomontages by Alexander Rodchenko.
The curator says
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Alessandro Colizzi teaches History of Design at Politecnico di Milano. Check his bio.
Silvia Sfligiotti is graphic, teacher and critic of visual communication. Check his bio.
Carlo Vinti teaches industrial design at the University of Camerino. Check his bio.