RODCHENKO

6 December 2006

[Picture of Osip Brik by Rodchenko]It was the picture first.  Not the story, not the context, not the label, just the picture.  It caught my eye and has stayed with me ever since. The photograph is called “The Critic Osip Brik”. I was just 17.

Alexander Rodchenko was Russian and an artist.  He gave up painting in favour of photography back in the 1920s.  Was he right, was art a waste of time now that we have photography? Hmm, interesting.

In any case, Rodchenko’s picture made me wonder about its subject — who was this curiously named man?  What a face!  The spectacles, the reflection of Russian, the composed features, the moustaches.  It somehow fitted the description for me of Agatha Christie’s Belgian detective, Poirot!

My investigations at the Mitchell Library introduced me to the “Futurists”  — Brik was a Russian avant garde writer and literary critic, was one of the most important members of the Russian Formalists” as well as one of “The Futurists”. Brik was one of the co-founders of the magazine “Leftist Front for the Arts” or LEF, which was a championed Russian “Constructivist art”.

I was amazed — that this ostensibly very conservative, almost prim person — a potential Nazi — could be such an anarchist! WOW!

And for me at 17, reading about the Russian Futurists was earth-shattering! My research led to the Italian Futurists and the German Dada movement.

The Futurists were fascinated with the dynamism, speed, and restlessness of modern urban life. They were out for attention, for challenge — for controversy — mainly by slagging off the art of the past as being boring.

Of course this clicked with the new wave — the “punk” movement of which I was so engrossed.

The portrait is iconic as an art object, and it showed me that you cannot judge a book by its cover.  I guess you could say that this is a bad photograph if it doesn’t make clear that Osip was radical and anti-establishment. But hey — that’s what that type of person looked like back then!

The name Osip Brik, and the picture are as part of me as anything can be.  I looked at this face every day for a decade, having it as a postcard that I carried about in my wallet.  Some people, on seeing it, has reckoned he was Jewish, others that he was a POW Commandant!  He’s been called right wing fascist, and communist — he’s been a villain and a hero, a mild mannered banker type and a cool, calculating killer!

This is therefore one of the most enigmatic images ever recorded on film.

As for Rodchenko, well, as a result of this picture I have grown to love so many other pictures of his that it may be said that Rodchenko is a seriously major influence on my life and approach to life.

He did the official film poster for the movie, “The Battleship Potemkin“, in 1926 — now, in case you don’t know, this film has  been voted one of the most influential films of all time on many occasions, and was named the greatest film of all time at the World’s Fair at Brussels, Belgium. It is a silent film directed by Sergei Eisenstein about a real life  uprising from 1905 when the crew of a Russian battleship rebelled against their oppressive officers of the Tsarist regime.

I have a lot of “coffee table” photography books, and I adore Rodchenko’s photographs. His eye was amazing — weird angles made me take family Christmas snaps standing on a chair to get a tall perspective!

Rodchenko has been an amazing influence on all sorts of people — even to this day.  Just look at this picture belonging to a collection of the Musée d´Art moderne de la Ville de Paris, entitled,  Rodtchenko, la révolution dans l´oeil.

[Picture of

Now compare it with Scottish Pop band, Franz  Ferdinand’s album cover for “You Could Have It So Much Better”:

[Picture fo Franz ferdinand's 2nd Album Cover]And Rodchenko’s stairs and shadows surely must have influenced another Glasgow artist, Jim Lambie — who uses black and white tape to create something of the same effect (the picture here is of his exhibition, “Forever Changes” at GOMA”).

[Picture taken by Rodchenko of shadows and stairs]jimlambie_goma

Rodchenko has endured as one of my all-time favourite photographers, and Mr Brik has been a close friend for a great many years (I even had him on a tee shirt).

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2 Responses to “RODCHENKO”


  1. […] It’s so odd. It is the Rodchenko of music somehow […]


  2. […]This is no voyeuristic Weegee, no artsy Rodchenko, no Capa war pictures. This is glamour, style, styling, beauty — polished refinemen[…]


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