From 07 November to 04 February, the Centre Pompidou in Paris is showing a striking exhibition on a little-known aspect of the roots of 20th century social documentary photography, Photographie, arme de classe [which roughly translates as ‘Photography as a weapon in the class struggle’]. Curated by Damarice Amao, Florian Ebner and Christian Joschke, the show deals with a comparatively unknown period in French photo history, from the end of the 1920s to the arrival of the Front populaire government of 1936 – when the socialist, communist and radical parties formed a short-lived coalition to govern France, with the tacit backing of the Soviet Union.
Photographer and activist Henri Tracol (1909-1997) was the first to formulate the idea that photography could be an “arme de classe”, in the tract he wrote for the photographer’s section of the Association des Écrivains et Artistes Revolutionnaires [‘Association of Revolutionary Writers and Artists’ aka the AEAR], formed in 1932. Although this communist front, Moscow-sponsored organisation only lasted a few years, it attracted many of the leading figures of the day from art, theatre, literature, architecture, and particularly photography. Those who joined were either fellow travellers or politically attached to communism, seeing it as a bastion against the twin evils of the time – fascism and capitalism.
“Childhood is my main theme,” said Dagmar Hochova. “During the totalitarian regime it was one area that could be freely explored and this determined that I sought children out. It was a different era; children played on the streets, in the suburbs. One could see them everywhere.”
Little-known in the UK to this day, Hochova was famous back in Soviet-era Czechoslovakia for her photographs of children. In fact her work extended far beyond this topic but, often critical of the communist regime, much of it could not be published or exhibited until after the 1989 Velvet Revolution.
Born in 1991, Polish photographer Karol Palka is currently working on a PhD at the Jan Matejko Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow, which he hopes to finish in 2021. His series Edifice documents communist-era buildings in Poland and neighbouring Eastern Bloc countries. It includes shots of the Polana Hotel, once owned by the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, and the former office building for the management of the Nowa Huta Steelworks, which was once visited by Nikita Khrushchev and Fidel Castro.
Bound to the north and west by the Baltic sea, and on the east by Russia, Lithuania has endured a turbulent past. Occupied from 1939 until it re-established independence in 1990, the former member of the Eastern Bloc was subject to the brutal dictatorship of the Soviet Union for over 50 years. Although the Cold War ended 26 years ago, and for many is a distant memory, the stark remnants of the brutal Soviet era have found an unlikely home in the Lithuanian countryside. Amongst the dense birch-covered wetlands of the Dzūkija National Park, lies Grūtas Park, otherwise known as Stalin World, where the regime’s symbols of power, the heroic archetypal statues and monoliths built to preserve and extend the Soviet’s communist ideology, reside. Established in 2001, the controversially kitsch ‘nostalgia’ theme park was built “to provide an opportunity for Lithuanian people, visitors to the country, and future generations to see the Soviet ideology which suppressed the spirit of Lithuania’s nation for decades,” according to the Grūta’s website. Artist Indrė Šerpytytė’s new series Pedestal addresses the gulf …