This article is a tribute to the great Russian photographer, sculptor, graphic designer, and painter Alexander Rodchenko. He was a pioneer in the search for unusual perspectives, with extreme view from above or from below, and with an innovative use of the diagonals and tilted views in his dynamic compositions. For this article, I was inspired by his most famous photo, a woman climbing a staircase, taken in 1930, which is reminiscent of the famous Odessa stair of the film “Battleship Potemkin” by Sergei Eisenstein.
Aleksander Mikhailovich Rodchenko (1891 – 1956) was one of the father of constructivism and one of the most versatile Russian artist after the Russian Revolution. His studies about the history of painting of all countries lead him to assert that, with rare exceptions, almost all works are made with a perspective from the eye or from the navel level. For many years, the art of photography was influenced by this classical point of view, as he could see picking up a lot of images from illustrated magazines.
So, he began to explore new point of view using his Leica camera. See for example his photos of a Pioneer with a Tumphet, or the Girl at the Phone; these photos were taken in a very unusual way during his time.
Perhaps, his most famous photo is Steps, which was taken in 1930. His masterful use of the diagonal perspective, as well as of light (look at the steps’s shadow), makes it unique in its kind. But, why is this photo so important in the history of Russian visual arts?
It is important because it remembers us the famous Odessa stair of the film “Battleship Potemkin” by Sergei Eisenstein. In fact, one of the most famous scenes of this film is the massacre of civilians by the Cossacks on these steps. The film director, to generate empathy for the victims and a sense of hostility towards the attackers, had a genial idea. He had never shown the faces of the Cossacks, showing only the faces of the civilians, that rolled down from the staircase.
Five years after this film and 13 years after the Russian Revolution, Rodchenko had another stroke of genius: he showed, on the same steps, a woman that slowly and peacefully climbed up the stairs, with her baby in her arms. The revolution was over, the Cossacks were defeated, and peace returned. Compare the scene of the film, with the dramatic images of the woman with her baby in her arms going up the stairs to ask help (and who was killed by the Cossacks) with the photo of Rodchenko!
All these photos, that I took in my city Como, are published as a message of peace for all people.
I asked some people to climb up these stairs for me; when I explained my project they agreed to participate!
Salute to the Masters is a series dedicated to great photographers that I like. I posted other tributes for Walker Evans, Lee Friedlander, Helen Levitt, Ernst Haas, Stephen Shore, Gabriele Basilico, Robert Adams, Thomas Struth, J.H. Lartigue, Elliott Erwitt, Robert Frank, Gianni Berengo Gardin, André Kertész, Brassaï and Izis Bidermanas. I especially love street photography and urban architectural photography.