Mikhail Karasik.
Photographic illustration and photomontage in books
for children and youths in the 1920s and 30s

Moscow: Kontakt-Kultura, 2010
Compiled by Marina Orlova
280 pp. with colour illustrations. 245 × 340 mm
In an edition of 1000 copies
ISBN 978-5-903406-23-46

‘In every detachment of children, in every school, and library there should be a corner for udarnye knigi’ [udarnaya kniga (plural: udarnye knigi or knizhki): a propaganda book glorifying Soviet industriali­zation]: such was the slogan that accompanied announcements for a series of books called ‘Udarnye knizhki’, published by Molodaya Gvardiya. The present album, which deals with photographs, photographic illustrations, and photomontages in books for children and youths in the 1920s and 30s, has the same title.

All literature published in the Soviet Union was ‘imbued with political propaganda content’ and udarnye knizhki, like other photographic books, were a part of the grand publishing project launched by the state in the new political conditions prevailing during this period of reconstruction. Today these books have almost entirely been forgotten, pushed to one side by the children’s book with drawn illustrations. Books containing photographic illustrations created during the pre-war period of the history of the Soviet children’s book have received little attention, and yet they have their own aesthetic and, more importantly, they enjoyed their own heyday when they were immensely popular. For a short time photographic illustrations became a modern and fashionable artistic form that not only took the place of drawn illustrations, but also influenced the latter. It was photography that accentuated the new aesthetic of the proizvodstvennaya kniga [proizvodstvennaya kniga: a propaganda book glorifying Soviet industrial production] as photographic essay—a form of journalism that combined literature, photography, and the popular scientific book. In the 1920s and 30s the children’s photo-book demonstrated all the tendencies experienced by Soviet photography, reflecting the latter’s constantly changing ‘face’ as it evolved from photomontage illustration to photographic essay, posed and then more natural photographic illustration, and cinematic book.

The present publication is the first study of the Soviet photo-book for children. The album includes 150 photo-books and the same number of photomontaged and drawn covers given as examples of similar publications and themes. Each photo-book is represented by its cover, several double-page spreads, and a short essay. The children’s photo-book was created by well-known artists and photographers, including Gustav Klutsis, Valentina Kulagina, Sergey Senkin, Solomon Telingater, Mikhail Tsekhanovsky, Dmitry Debabov, Vladimir Gryuntal, Arkady Shaykhet, as well as names that are now forgotten such as Mikhail Razulevich, Georgy Grachev, and S. Petrovich (S.P. Ivanov). Many of these books were well-known and loved by not just children but adults as well; certain publications were, like the people they depict, repressed, while others have been forgotten as a result of changes in the political course. As part of the Soviet publishing project of the 1930s, the photo-book gives a fuller and more objective impression of the children’s book in the pre-war years.