With Joseph Stalin’s death in 1953 and the rise to power of Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet government opened a period of episodic reforms that became known as “The Thaw.” Between alternating years of openness and years of constriction, artists managed to find independent avenues for self-expression. In twenty-five years of complex shifts in the political, cultural and economic life of the Soviet Union, there was space for the development of a personal voice, even in one of the most closely supervised areas of Soviet culture – photography.
These reforms created the possibility of closer contact with non-Communist nations, including the United States, which presented two important and wildly popular U.S.-organized art exhibitions in Moscow in 1959 – Edward Steichen’s Family of Man and the American National Exhibition.
Many of the works in this section of the Russian exhibitions are vintage photographic prints on loan from private collectors Natalia Grigorieva and Edward Litvinsky, founders and owners of the Lumiere Brothers Center for Photography in Moscow, founded in conjunction with one of the first private galleries in Russia devoted to fine art photography.
Other works come from members of Novator, one of the most important and enduring of the independent Russian photography associations, founded in the early 1960s by individual photographers and photography lovers in Russia. More than photo clubs, the intent of these associations was to open a space where photographers could present and discuss new ideas in photography, and re-visit the unofficial, often banned, works of Russian-Soviet photography of the previous three decades. Members of these associations shared historical and contemporary works not approved by the state.