Primrose – reviews of Russia's 'marvellous' colour photos

'Magnificent' photo show illuminates Russia's history at the Photographer's Gallery

Dmitri Baltermants Stalin’s funeral
(Image credit: Multimedia Art Museum)

What you need to know

The Photographer's Gallery, London is showing a new collection of Russian images in colour. Primrose: Early Colour Photography in Russia records the use and development of colour in Russian photography from the 1860s to the 1970s.

Primrose translates into Russian as "first colour", and this show chronicles developments in Russian photography from early hand-tinting to photomontage and underground slide-shows. Through these images it also documents changes in Russia's social and political life over a century. Runs until 19 October.

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What the critics like

"This marvellous exhibition presents more than 140 images marking the blossoming story of Russian photography," says Sue Steward in the Evening Standard.

It's a magnificent collection from the "perfect propaganda" of Aleksander Rodchenko's constructivist photo-collages to the wonderful street photography of the brilliantly changeable Dmitri Baltermants.

"Through exquisite examples" this show presents "an illuminating image of Russia", says Freire Barnes in Time Out. There are uncannily intimate portraits, eyecatching images of Tartar women, and a hypnotic photo of Tolstoy in impressionistic hues.

Beyond photography's role in propaganda, this show "tells a much wider story of formal experimentation developing in tandem with social change", says Jackie Wullschlager in the Financial Times. It concludes with the always individualist Boris Mikhailov whose energetic, empathetic vision of post-Soviet struggles concludes this intriguing show.

What they don't like

Some of the Soviet-era photography masks the devastation and starvation of a nation behind images "stage-managed to present state-sanctioned myths about the ‘happiest people in the happiest country on earth'", says Freire Barnes in Time Out. It's these images of plump fruit that leave a bitter taste in your mouth.

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