Romance of Soviet Leningrad through the eyes of Ilya Narovlyansky (PHOTOS)

The slow life of the “northern capital” captured during the 20th century by a talented native photographer.

Ilya Narovlyansky (1921-2000) was born in Petrograd, studied and lived in Leningrad and ended his life in St. Petersburg… (Read more about the city name changes here). He began his photographic practice in the 1930s, taking his first shots of cityscapes with an ancient wooden Kodak and a homemade Pioneer camera. After graduating from high school, Narovlyansky went to the front of the Soviet-Finnish war and then went through the entire World War II. From the 1950s, Narovlyansky worked at the Leningrad branch of the TASS news agency.

“I was born in 1921, I remember a gigantic flood in 1924,” he recalled. “I remember the times of the New Economic Policy - Sennaya Square overflowing with food, horse-drawn carriages running along the wooden and cobblestone pavers of Nevsky and Voznesensky Prospects.” He also remembered the besieged Leningrad, and how the orchestra performed the premier of Dmitry Shostakovich’s Seventh ‘Leningrad’ Symphony in the Philharmonic Hall on August 9 of the “hardest” year that was 1942.

Narovlyansky’s photos are an attempt to capture the change of epochs and the unhurried, but vital city life. Unlike those required by official Soviet photography, his deliberately non-ideal pictures reflected his unique handwriting and true artistic skills. 

Morning Leningrad

White Nights. Dvortsovy (Palace) Bridge, 1958

Sphinx next to the Academy of Arts, 1963

Morning at the Ekaterina Canal (tsarist name of Griboyedov Canal), 1958

White Nights, 1966

Fontanka River, 1950s

Anichkov Bridge, 1965

Lion Bridge in winter, 1960s

Demonstration of the Foucault Pendulum Experience at St. Isaac’s Cathedral Museum, 1960s

Untitled, 1960s

Untitled, 1960s

Sphinx in winter, 1975

Lenin Square, 1980s

The exhibition ‘Romance of St. Petersburg in the 1940s-1980s’ featuring Ilya Narovlyansky’s photos will be displayed in the ROSPHOTO museum and exhibition center from April 12 to May 22, 2022.

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