20 December - 27 January 2008 ã.
The State Russian Centre of Photography present exhibition "HAPPY NEW YEAR!"
Favorite holiday in the photographs and postcards of the XX century
In the same way that a family album with black-and-white pictures does, New Year celebration joins relatives and friends, and like a hundred years ago one of us will certainly take a camera and ask everyone to pose in front of the New Year tree and a cotton-wool figure of Father Frost.
Putting together this project we intended to make a possibly complete study of the sentimental theme of New Year photography, ranging from traditional images with the obligatory fir-tree and no less habitual winter landscapes, still lives with New Year ornaments, carnival scenes, to something that looks rather paradoxical in the context of the common image of this favorite holiday The project embraces photographs, photo-collages, family albums, postcards of different kinds: both from before the revolution and from the Soviet times, printed or handcrafted ones.
It is amazing how, among the multitude of styles, genres, surfaces, what prevails is the sense of holiday that can be put in the words Happy New Year! The phenomenon of this festive spirit that finds its place with people of different countries and generations is expressed in a whole endless train of borrowings, amusing and charming remakes.
Thus, elegantly dressed ladies and gentlemen holding dummy New Year presents and captured by an Austrian or German author became characters of European postcards that were sold in Russia before the revolution.
It was not difficult to add a Russian text to a Western printing pattern. The producers of special stamps made for this reason exploited their simple invention, which resulted in the appearance of postcards with a variety of European landscapes where the inscription is the only connection with the theme of New Year.
Old New Year postcards, both European and Russian ones, would become a big value after the revolution as New Year celebrations would be prohibited up until the year 1935. After it was back out of disgrace, the New Year would unexpectedly receive a new ideological image and become the holiday of the joyful and happy childhood in the country of socialism. (A photograph picturing the New Year celebrations in a Soviet officer’s family is included in the exhibition as the incontestable proof of the recovery of the holiday itself and the New Year tree as its symbol.)
The transformation occurred to an early XX century postcard is evidential of the fact that neither governmental directives nor the war years could repress the memory of this holiday as a family and lyrical event.
The postcard originally picturing two beautiful ladies in long gowns, was first copied by an unknown handcraftsman who then colored the picture with an addition of a New Year tree to the background and, naturally, wrote ‘Happy New Year 1944’! The time, however, spoke here for itself through the features of writing characteristic to the post-revolution time: before 1917, greetings were always spelled in capital letters.
As for Soviet postcards that first appeared in 1930-ies, they are very different, picturing sturdy skiers and skaters and, less frequently, dancing couples. But an image of a serene and happy child still remained the main sign of the coming New Year in the USSR.
The work of our artists in the fifties is represented by rather daring collages combining Father Frost, a bundle of balloons and a circus monkey in one image, but the design considerably changes already in the sixties. The icy stillness of winter landscapes almost represses people out of image. Notably, the photographic hit of the Soviet 70es, a fir-tree branch with a lit candle and a glass ball, are reminiscent of perhaps the first New Year ornament, the famous XVI century Saxon glass ball.
The image of winter and snow-covered forest coming to one’s mind in connection with habitual New Year symbols, necessarily suggests the perception of winter photography of the turn of XX century as New Year photography. These early attempts are very valuable primarily because shooting in winter was extremely difficult at that time. And whether shot in the open air or in pavilions with winter landscape painted on the background, today these photographs are marked by a winningly solemn and festive spirit of the sitters, ladies in elegant manteaus and their companions in heavy fur-coats.
Nevertheless, it is not the sitters’ formal attires that makes us peer at the New Year photographs of different periods of the Soviet epoch, but rather the carnival costumes and the element of magic transformation inherited by the XX century holidays from old time Christmas games. Bunny boys and snowflake girls characteristic of the fall of Brezhnev epoch don’t count. The main characters and comedians of the New Year celebrations, children delight to play out various Bears, Japanese and Chinese ladies and, of course, Huts on the Chicken Legs.
Based on the article by Olga Boitsova
The State Russian Centre of Photography exhibition hall
Bolshaya Morskaya ul., 35
vernissage 19 December 6.00 p.m.
Exchibition open: 20.12.2007— 27.01.2008