Photo credit:Max Penson
Velizh, Vitebsk Governorate, Russian Empire
(present-day Smolensk Oblast, Russia)
|Occupation||Photojournalist, Photographer and artist|
Max Penson (1893–1959) was a noted Russian Jewish photojournalist and photographer of the Soviet Union noted for his photographs of Uzbekistan. His photographs documented the economic transformation of Uzbekistan from a highly traditional feudal society into a modern Soviet republic between 1920 and 1940. Max Penson is one of the most prominent representatives of the Uzbek photography.
He was born into a poor bookbinder's family in 1893 in the small town of Velizh in Vitebsk Governorate (present-day Smolensk Oblast, Russia). He soon moved to Vilno where he enrolled in the art school of S. N. Yuzhanin. In 1914, he was forced as a Jew to move with his family to Kokand in Turkestan.
After the 1917 Russian Revolution he founded an art school in Kokand under administration of the Kokand Revolutionary Committee. He became the director and taught draftsmanship to 350 Uzbek children studying at the school. In 1921 his life changed dramatically when he obtained a camera. He would go on to become one of Uzbekistan's and indeed the Soviet Union's prominent professional photographers in the period 1920-1940, capturing its people and economic progression and made over 30,000 photographs by 1940.
He moved to the Uzbek capital of Tashkent and from 1926 through to 1949 worked for the largest newspaper in Central Asia, the Pravda Vostoka (Truth of the East). During the 1930s he was particularly prolific in capturing the public engineering works in Uzbekistan and the industrialization of the cotton trade in the country. Penson's images were widely circulated by the Soviet news agency TASS and in 1933 his photographs featured in an extensive volume exploring economic progression in the Soviet Union entitled, USSR: Under Construction.
In 1937 Penson participated in the World Exhibition in Paris winning the Grand Prix Award for Uzbek Madonna, a portrait of a young Uzbek woman, publicly nursing her child. In 1939 he photographed the construction of the Grand Fergana Canal. In 1940 Penson met Sergei Eisenstein who said of him:
"There cannot be many masters left who choose a specific terrain for their work, dedicate themselves completely to and make it an integrated part of their personal destiny. It is, for instance, virtually impossible to speak about the city of Ferghana without mentioning the omnipresent Penson who travelled all over Uzbekistan with his camera. His unparalleled photo archives contain material that enables us to trace a period in the republic's history, year by year and page by page".
Decline and death
In 1948 the increase in anti-Semitism under pressure by Joseph Stalin forced Penson to leave his 25-year-long position with the Pravda Vostoka. He died in 1959 after a long period of depression and illness.
A great number of Penson's works are housed in the Moscow House of Photography. In 2006 Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich sponsored an exhibition of Penson's photographs of Uzbekistan in agreement with the Moscow House of Photography on 29 November 2006 at the Gilbert Collection at Somerset House in London. Abramovich had previously funded the exhibition "Quiet Resistance: Russian Pictorial Photography 1900s-1930s" at the same gallery in 2005, also organised by the Moscow House of Photography. Another Gallery that has explored Max Penson's photographic legacy is the Galeyev Gallery, with a personalised exhibition of Penson's work in Moscow (21 September - 31 October 2006). The latest exhibitions of Penson's works were at the Russian Cultural Centre (London)(Commonly known as Pushkin House), from November 30 to December 2, 2010 and at Nailya Alexander Gallery in New York City from April 5 to May 13, 2011.