07 March 2015
The Royal Photographic Society’s first contact with Russia came via Roger Fenton, its first Secretary, photographed in the Crimea in 1855-56. Just over one hundred years later Laurence Hallett, the Society’s then Secretary, visited Russia on behalf of the Society…writes Dr Michael Pritchard FRPS.
In May 1958 The Photographic Journal, the monthly publication of the Royal Photographic Society, published a short statement as part of a report on the Council proceedings. The Society’s Pictorial Group (today known as the Visual Art Group) exhibition for 1958 would be sent to Russia during April for exhibiting there. As it turned out the exhibition was despatched by sea on 13 May and the Journal noted that it would be seen in Moscow, Leningrad and ‘possibly other cities’. In September the Journal reported that the exhibition had been featured on Moscow radio.
Quite how the plan to show the exhibition in Russia during the Cold War with Nikita Khrushchev newly installed as leader is unclear but it was shown in Moscow between 23 July and 14 August 1958 in the Gorky Park of Rest and Culture and in Leningrad from 18 September to 4 October.
The Society’s Secretary, Laurence Hallett FRPS visited Russia and was able to see the exhibition. He presented a report of his trip to the Society as a monthly meeting and reported on it in The Photographic Journal for August 1959.
The exhibition was opened in Moscow by Professor Anna Elistratova, Vice President of the USSR/Great Britain Society. As Hallett notes: ‘For many Muscovites this was their first acquaintance with British photography and the prints were examined with great interest’. Some 300 people attending the opening and the Moscow exhibition was visited by some 30,000 people. In Leningrad it was opened by V E Ryzhova, a member of the Board of the USSR/Great Britain Society and was visited by more than 10,000 people. In addition to the Moscow radio report the exhibition was reported on by the Soviet press.
Visitors commented on the skill of the photographers. Hallett quoted several including: ‘The Exhibition itself has made a favourable impression, and talk about photography being a field of technology rather than an art now appears, in the light of our acquaintance with the work of English photographers, to be a long forgotten doubt’. There were critical notes sounded by visitor: ‘It is a very great pity that there are no photographs reflecting the life of ordinary people. And we would like to see some’ and ‘The Exhibition has a somewhat classical trend and, unfortunately, does not reflect the contemporary life of the country. There is a complete absence of industrial landscapes, few views of towns; there are no photographs of sport, no photographs of everyday life and work’.
The Journal reports seemed to have been the only record of the Society’s exhibition in Russia. Last week a British Pathé film surfaced (click here to view) which showed the exhibition in Moscow.
If you can add any more to this fascinating story or can identify any of the photographs shown in the film please email below.
Dr Michael Pritchard
‘Exhibitions’, The Photographic Journal, July 1958, p. 182.
‘Other News’, The Photographic Journal, September 1958, ibc.
L. E. Hallett, ‘Photography in Russia’. The Photographic Journal, August 1959, pp. 197-205.
British Pathé, http://www.britishpathe.com/video/photographic-exhibition-of-the-british-royal-photo/query/royal+photographic+society, running time 1 minute 40 seconds.
Exhibition photographs: Laurence Hallett FRPS.