The project investigates amateur club photography in Russia in the second half of the 20th century. Amateur photo clubs began to emerge in houses and palaces of culture during the 1950s. In 10–15 years they formed a dense network spreading all over the Soviet Union. In the course of time, photographers’ skills improved, ties between clubs strengthened, and a space emerged for dialogue and the exchange of experience and ideas. Absorbing the traditions of European photograpric societies of the late 19th – early 20th century, by the end of the 1960s Russian photo clubs had reached a notably high level of expertise. The research project is focused on the ‘Zerkalo’ (‘Mirror’) photo club whose activity determined to a great extent the state of creative photography in Leningrad.

Named the best USSR-wide photo club of 1987, and winning 11 gold medals at VDNKh fairs, over the 18 years of its existence Zerkalo gave rise to a galaxy of talented artists whose works still influence the state of Russian photography today. So-called “artistic documentary” photography was the prevailing genre at the photo club, although two others emerged alongside with it: formalist and reportage. Artistic documentary genre was represented by Pyotr Lebedev, Sergei Podgorkov, Boris Mikhalevkin, Lyudmila Ivanova, Lyudmila Tabolina, Yevgeny Mokhorev, Alexander Kitayev, Andrei Usov. The “formalist” wing was made up of Yuri Matveyev, Sergei Arsentiev, Alexei Titarenko, Gennady Tkalich, Andrey Chezhin, Valentin Kapustin and Dmitry Shneerson. Boris Bulgakov, Alexander Nikolayev, Anatoly Medvednikov, Yevgeny Raskopov and others were mostly engaged in the “reportage” photography.

What did photographic practices mean for the Soviet people? What were the conditions in which photo amateurism developed in the USSR? What was the difference between creative experimental photography and a professionalised photography that could serve as a source of income? What were public photo clubs like, and what was their social function? Finally, is there a need for amateur vocational unions today? What role does communication play in the making of an artist?

The exhibition includes works of more than sixty artists many of whom have not until now been widely known. In addition to original prints, the exhibition displays cultural artifacts and historical documents. The project will be accompanied by a series of public program events devoted to amateur photography in the Soviet Union, as well as a virtual museum project to be launched at the ROSPHOTO website. Moreover, a book based on the outcome of the research will be published. The book will contain materials from the photo archive of the ‘Zerkalo’ club painstakingly compiled for the first time in history.

With the support from the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation and St. Petersburg Committee for Culture.