Alexander Grinberg

 

 


Alexander D. Grinberg (1885-1979) is one of the most respected Russian photographers of the twentieth century. Born at the end of the nineteenth century, and having lived ninety-four years, he experienced the Russian revolutionary, the Civil War, two world wars, stalinist repression along with numerous fluctuations in soviet political and cultural history. Even as a child Grinberg demonstrated a strong attraction to photography, taking his first photography at the age of ten.
By the age of twenty-two he was an active member of the Russian photographic society, where he became a leading creative force. In 1908 he was awarded the silver medal in the all-Russian photo exhibition in Moscow and the gold medal in the international photo-exhibition in dresden, which signaled the recognition of his talents on an international level.
In 1914 Grinberg was invited to work at the Khanzhankov film studio in Moscow. Becoming the head of the film advertising sections, he quickly established process for mass distribution and here he began his cinematographic career. He went on to work behind the camera for numerous studios. In the 1920’a his cinematographic experience led him to become an instructor at the state technical institute of cinematography where he began his association with Sergey Eisenstein who he photographed. His prestige was on the rise throughout the 1920s until 1929 when, under the storm of the cultural revolution the « old school » of Soviet photography came under fire as « depraved », and Grinberg fell out of favor.
The new cultural policy dictated that any eroticism in artistic forms was a remnant of bourgeois idleness, and inappropriate for soviet society. Nevertheless, Grinberg risked one more exhibition of his work in 1935 with images of partially dressed women, raising a storm of criticism, as well as prompting a few brave photographers to come to the defense of this artistic master. Consequently, for his unorthodox vision of photography he was arrested and sentenced to a labor camp for distribution of pornography. By 1939 he was released on early parole, for good behavior and industriousness, although by the time of his release he had permanently lost his sense of smell. He resumed to work as a photographer for a variety of institutions such as museums and taught photography.
His early work was not destroyed as would have normally happened because his older brother managed to hide the negatives for many years. During the second world war he worked to preserve and restore rare photo archives. After the war he worked in the house of models, photographing for fashion designers. In the 1950s he photographed various Soviet film starts and scientists.
His whole life was thus devoted to photography, which he never abandoned in the most difficult of circumstances.

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