Rodchenko included Girl with a Leica in his section of the 1935 Exhibition of the Work of the Masters of Soviet Photography (Vystavka rabot masterov sovetskogo foto-iskusstva) held in the exhibition hall on Kuznetskii Most in Moscow [fig 1]. Rodchenko had for several years suffered attacks on his creativity in the context of Stalin’s increasingly oppressive government, and the positive reception of his work in the exhibition afforded him some well-deserved affirmation: ‘A. M. Rodchenko ranks as one of the most celebrated and provocative figures in Soviet photographic art…He stands on the ‘left’ wing of art, and is historically and formally linked with Russian Futurism and Constructivism…The role of Rodchenko in the history of Soviet art is unquestionably great; only a handful of Soviet photo-reporters have escaped his influence’ (Exhibition of Works of Soviet Photographic Artists, 1935, p. 97, quoted in Lavrentiev, p. 31).
A key visual element of this image, as well as the tool used to make it, is the handheld Leica camera. When Rodchenko acquired his Leica in October 1928, it ‘marked the beginning of an entirely new series. He seemed to go everywhere with it, eyeing everyone and everything…’ (Lavrentiev p. 23). The handheld camera afforded the multidisciplinary Rodchenko unfettered creative freedom, making possible the present dynamic portrait. Playful images of artists behind the camera pepper Rodchenko’s oeuvre from the 1930s, but only Girl with a Leica – with its tilted vantage point and unconventional framing – fully conveys Rodchenko’s experimental spirit.
The photograph was an important one for Rodchenko from the time of its making and its significance has not diminished in the intervening decades. It is an image known, however, mostly through reproduction or later prints. It is believed that no other early print of this image has been offered at auction. A large-format print of similar size and dating in the Rodchenko-Stepanova Archive is now at the Moscow House of Photography Museum. There is a smaller print in the Thomas Walther Collection at The Museum of Modern Art, New York (1828.2001), as well as one at The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles (84.XM.258.39), measuring no more than 11-7/8 by 8-3/4 inches.
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