Photography in Russia: then and now

Russia has given the world an impressive collection of illustrious authors, playwrights and composers. However, there's another, often overlooked, art form that the nation can be said to have made an even bigger contribution to – photography.

Today's leading photographers come from all over the world and employ a huge range of techniques to craft their artworks – but it's still a fairly safe bet to suggest that their careers have been at least partially shaped by Russian innovations. From the early pioneers of the 19th century to modern experts in portraiture, the chronology of photography's development as an art returns to Russia repeatedly throughout history.

Sergey Lvovich Levitsky

Many of the earliest notable photographs taken in Russia can be credited to just one man: Count Sergey Lvovich Levitsky. Although daguerrotype photography was invented by Frenchman Louis Daguerre in the 1830s, soon after the two men met in Paris a decade later, Levitsky invented the bellows camera. This improvement vastly increased the speed and accuracy of focusing and dramatically reduced development time. He also worked on early techniques for retouching negatives to fix flaws and was integral in positioning photography as an art form, playing with decorative backgrounds and 'clone' photos. Levitsky returned to Russia in 1849 and became a highly respected portrait photographer, with subjects including Tsar Alexander III and Napoléon III.

Karl Bulla

Levitsky may have championed the esthetic merits of photography, but it was Karl Bulla who saw a more practical use for the process. Often referred to as the father of photo-reporting in Russia, Karl Bulla took full advantage of the late 19th century technological improvements that allowed newspapers to begin printing photographs. In 1886, Bulla received a permit from the St. Petersburg Police to take photographs anywhere around the city, allowing him to capture some of the first truly candid shots.

Sergey Produkin-Gorsky

Color photography was officially invented in 1861, but Russia remained in black and white until the work of Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky at the turn of the century. After training as a chemist, Prokudin-Gorsky developed an inventive method of recreating color in photos using red, green and blue filters. His subsequent travels around Russia, capturing life in the provinces before World War I, produced photographs that remain some of the most evocative images ever taken.

Photography today

In modern Moscow, the Lumiere Brothers Center is the ideal place to continue your exploration of Russian photography. Named after the original French filmmakers, its exhibitions span the 20th century, with images of Soviet Russia as well as celebrity portraits of Elvis Presley, Mick Jagger and Marilyn Monroe. Located in the city center, about an hour from the airport and our Radisson Blu Sheremetyevo Airport, Moscow, the building also has a souvenir store filled with stunning books, postcards and souvenirs. The country has continued its tradition of producing inspirational photographers, with artists like Katerina Plotnikova and Margarita Kareva drawing from traditional Russian folklore and fairytales to create fantastical images. In portraiture, Vladimir Clavijo-Telepnev utilizes a monochromatic palette to give his photographs an enchanting retro feel, while Nikolay Biryukov has contributed to international fashion magazines like Wonderland, Elle and Tatler.

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