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Tractor factory facts: Margaret Bourke-White's Eyes on Russia and the romance of industry in the Five-Year Plan

Haran, Barnaby

Authors

Abstract

This article examines the particular form of documentary that the photographer Margaret Bourke-White employed in her images of sovietisation during the first Five-Year Plan in Russia. By her own admission she was more interested in machines than politics in producing the images that appeared in her 1931 book Eyes on Russia and in several magazine publications. Aiming to provide ‘photographic records might have some historical value’ by detailing the Five-Year Plan in action, the images present these epic transformations in atmospheric vignettes that convey, as Maurice Hindus notes in Eyes on Russia's preface, the ‘romantic appeal’ of industrialisation and agricultural collectivisation. I discuss the ideological considerations relating to the publication of these photographs in both Fortune and USSR in Construction, the capitalist and communist forums on industry, and as such reflect upon the continued importance of contexts of display and dissemination. Bourke-White was honest about the fabrication of the images, in contrast to Soviet worker photographers who fetishised facts and expressed antagonism towards artifice. The article situates Bourke-White within a discourse on photographic facticity in which few of the photographers were innocent of manipulating evidence for aesthetic or ideological purposes.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Apr 28, 2015
Print ISSN 0142-6540
Publisher Oxford University Press (OUP)
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 38
Issue 1
Pages 73-93
DOI https://doi.org/10.1093/oxartj/kcu032
Keywords documentary, machine, Russia, Factography
Publisher URL https://academic.oup.com/oaj/article/38/1/73/1516474