RIA Novosti Photo Archives Chart Russian History At IWM North

by Roz Tappenden | 10 January 2006
colour photo of a man wearing an orange suit and an astronauts helmet

Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin on his way to the launch pad with back up cosmonaut Gherman Titov in the background. Courtesy Imperial War Museum North © RIA Novosti

A new exhibition of photographs at the Imperial War Museum North offers a fresh look at Soviet and Russian history from the archives of the RIA Novosti news agency.

Soviet Times, on display until June 4 2006, takes a look at some iconic reminders of the nation’s struggles against Capitalism, the Nazis, and eventually its own Communist regime.

The 20th century was a turbulent time in Russia’s history and this exhibition of 30 photographs illustrates, through the eyes of RIA Novosti photographers, the pride, strength, courage and determination of the Russian people.

The work of some of Russia’s most famous photographers, Max Alpert, Arkady Shaikhet, Dimitri Baltermants and Georgy Zelma, is resurrected for the show.

black and white photo of a soldier waving his arm in the air and shouting to people behind him

Max Alpert's photograph of political instructor Yeremenko leading an attack near Voroshilovgrad, 1942. Courtesy Imperial War Museum North © RIA Novosti

The collection begins with the revolution, civil war and the birth of the Soviet Union. A picture of Russian soldiers sharing soup with Austrians on the Russian-German front in 1917 shows men smiling and raising their tin cups to the camera.

Socialist Realism, a Soviet genre of the arts that glorified its own political and social aims, is evident in much of the photography of the 1920s and 30s.

Heroic depictions of the workers and industry have come to epitomise the Soviet age and these powerful images of industrious steel workers, miners and peasants must have inspired an entire generation.

The harrowing images of World War Two, or The Great Patriotic War as it was called in the USSR, are graphic, showing children imprisoned in a concentration camp and a field of massacred civilians in the Ukraine.

black and white photo of a group of soldiers on horseback

First Cavalry Army on the Polish Front, September 1920. Courtesy Imperial War Museum North © RIA Novosti

These are shown alongside images of victory – a soldier raises the Soviet flag over the Reichstag, British and Russian sailors share cigarettes and soldiers stand together on guard duty at Magdeburg.

The final breath of the Soviet era is recorded in images showing the demolition of the Berlin wall, the Chernobyl disaster and the mass demonstrations in the city of Moscow.

National heroes are also remembered – Yuri Gagarin, Dmitri Shostakovich, Garry Kasparov and his adversary Anatoly Karpov are all immortalised in a series of memorable portraits.

black and white aerial photograph of a soldier waving a large flag on the top of a building

The Soviet flag is raised over the Reichstag, May 2 1945. Courtesy Imperial War Museum North © RIA Novosti

RIA Novosti began life in 1941 as the Sovinformburo, “to bring into the limelight international events, military developments, and day-to-day life through printed and broadcast media”. It was created just three days after the German invasion.

Its London bureau was opened the following year to produce the Soviet War News Weekly, which later became Soviet Weekly and went out of press just before the collapse of the Soviet regime in 1992.

In 1962 Sovinformburo became RIA Novosti and continues today as a major international news agency.

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