Eleazar Langman, Soviet devotee of revolutionary forms in photography

Eleazar Mikhailovich Langman remains one of the most enigmatic figures in the history of Soviet photography. In the early 1930s, passions boiled over at the mention of his name and those of Alexander Rodchenko and Boris Ignatovich, who together formed the core of the "October" photographic society.

Eleazar Mikhailovich Langman (1895-1940) remains one of the most enigmatic figures in the history of Soviet photography. In the early 1930s, passions boiled over at the mention of his name and those of Alexander Rodchenko and Boris Ignatovich, who together formed the core of the "October" photographic society. Langman was accused of having a penchant for formalism and leftism, and of deliberately "skewing" his images.

The master's archive, which contained negatives, photographs, documents, and manuscripts (he published articles in the magazine Soviet Photo), has apparently been lost, since, after divorcing his wife, Langman spent the last years of his life wandering from one darkroom to another without a permanent abode.
In 1929-30, Langman worked as a photojournalist as part of "Ignatovich's crew", which shot pictures for the newspaper Evening Moscow. That time saw the development of his creative signature, characterized by a desire to vanquish the visual cliches of photographic composition.
"Eleazar Langman is one of the new breed seeking an original and dynamic form of photographic art," reads an article most likely written by Lev Mezhericher, the cataloguer of the "Masters" exhibition, "though among the most extreme of them," he adds. He belonged to the "October" circle of artists.
He said himself that his aim was to seek out a "new revolutionary form" to convey Soviet themes. The characteristic features of his compositional interpretations were "rationality, sharp accentuation of certain elements of the image, distinct angles and linearity, and complete saturation of the photographic frame."
In the early 1930s, the titles of Langman's photographs began to vividly describe the era. During October's active period of 1930-31, when an exhibition at the House of Print caused a scandal provoking caustic articles in the journal Proletarian Photo about October's perceived formalism, literary titles abounded in Langman's works. For example, "Old and New Simonovka" (the region of Moscow's Simonov Monastery), "Female Timekeeper in an Educational-Experimental State Grain Farm". The literary inscriptions wittingly defined the political or progressive (in a technical sense) context in which the photographs were construed.
However, the "correct" titles did not always suffice. When the criticism of October was in full swing, Proletarian Photo wrote: "... we will relentlessly resist the modern blueprints of October's creative method, in which form suppresses content, and insipidity (essentially content that is alien to our class sensibilities) is veiled by peppy captions."
Of all the members of October, Langman was the most extreme, candid, and bold experimenter. By comparison, Rodchenko is more classical, Ignatovitch more narrational, and Vladimir Gruntal more circumspect with his camera angles and inclinations. None of the above possesses the expressive foreground that can only be found in Langman's photographs.
"Image" in the name of form. Once it's been done, there's no point in redoing it. I won't do it better, and I don't want to do it worse. One thing was clear to me: the refined form that I had attained could be used as a basis for genuine, realistic things.
Langman also explained the origin of his "skewed" photographs, which became, in his words, "the talk of the town," i.e. the oft-repeated accusation of formalism. He remarked that the "skewing" effect in his pictures was a "protest against the cliched grayness of photography." In the mid-1930s, when this "skewness" also became hackneyed, Langman focused his attention elsewhere.
He tried to abandon his trademark slants and angles, yet retain the compositional expressiveness of the shot. An edition of the journal USSR in Construction devoted to Kazakhstan and the photo album "10 Years of Uzbekistan" first featured Langman's photo portraits. The viewpoint - slightly from below and extremely close-up - gave a clear study of the human face. When edited and cropped for publication by Rodchenko and Stepanov, Langman's viewpoints sharply emphasized the contrast between the large foreground and the tiny background.
Langman's pictures are distinguished by their internal saturation and deliberateness. They were created intentionally and are remembered as such: uniquely feasible and maximally informative. Taking advantage of the small dimensions of his Leica camera, he concentrated information, forms, and space into each and every frame.

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