‘The Power of Pictures’ Review: Soviet Cinema’s Radical Potential

[From The Wall Street Journal]
The films in New York’s Jewish Museum’s ‘The Power of Pictures: Early Soviet Photography, Early Soviet Film’ reveal the struggle between artistic invention and state control

In Dziga Vertov’s exuberant “Man With a Movie Camera” (1929), the camera dances, spins and materializes on rooftops, before an oncoming train and even on stage. Combining electrifying editing, naturalistic scenes and trick photography, the film evokes 24 hours of Soviet urban life, beginning with humans and machines awakening at daylight. Vertov envisioned an all-seeing “cinema eye—more perfect than a human eye for purposes of research into the chaos of visual phenomena filling the universe.” Filmmakers explored various aesthetic approaches during the era, but it was a period of startling cinematic invention.

A still from “Man With a Movie Camera,” depicting an eye peering through a camera lens, appears on the cover of the catalog for the Jewish Museum’s “The Power of Pictures: Early Soviet Photography, Early Soviet Film.” Twelve films from the era, including Vertov’s breathtaking city symphony, are screening on video in a specially constructed theater within the exhibition, and their vitality and diversity parallel those of the photographs and other materials. Twenty-three dynamic film posters are also on view, as well as a compact 35mm camera of the same model as the one featured in “Man With a Movie Camera”—it’s hard not to expect it to spring to life.

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The wild architecture of Soviet-Era Bus-stops

Quirky piece from The Wire

Disputed-region-of-AbkhaziaGagrajpgOF ALL THE places you’d expect to find an elaborately designed bus stop shaped like a giant seashell, the streets of Gagra, Abkhazia, probably wouldn’t be one of them. The disputed region, situated between Georgia and Russia along the Black Sea, isn’t known for its architectural marvels. And yet, there it is, a Gaudi-esque sculpture sitting right on the side of the road.

This mosaic of plastic and stone designed by Zurab Tsereteli looks like art, but it’s actually something more than that. It’s a fully functioning bus stop. And stops like these are way more common than you might think. Chris Herwig has seen hundreds of them. For the past 12 years, the Canadian photographer has traveled throughout the former Soviet Union snapping photos of the region’s unexpectedly crazy architecture for his new book Soviet Bus Stops.

Herwig first started noticing the oddly-designed stations during an epic bike ride from London to Moscow, back in 2002. His first photograph was of a simple rectangular shelter somewhere in Central Asia. “It was just so different, thought-out, and quirky,” he recalls. “Like someone with a bit of a design eye was having a good time designing this thing.” Herwig quickly discovered that this wasn’t an architectural fluke. Similarly ornate bus stops were scattered throughout the region, punctuating the otherwise functional skylines of the former Soviet Union with a healthy dose of weird.

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