Dmitri Shostakovich. Pages of His Life in Photographs


Complited by Olga Dombrovskaya

     This album is an attempt to present Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich’s work and life in photographs. The collection includes approximately three hundred and fifty photographs representing the main milestones in the composer’s life and creative work.
     The main objective of this album is to illustrate as fully and diversely as possible the different aspects of Shostakovich’s creative life, and not only its external manifestations: hearings, performances, rehearsals, and premieres. Although neither the human eye, nor the camera lens can capture and embrace the gist of the creative process as it unfolds, sometimes photographs and their capacity to convey a person’s character, psyche, and inner world through his outward appearance can help us to take a peek through the creative looking-glass. In those cases where certain important events in the composer’s life and creative work have not been caught on film, synchronous ‘eventless’ snapshots taken at the same time can give them meaning. Here is an example. There are no photographs of the premiere of the First Symphony (at any rate, none have been found at the present time). But the Аrchives contain a photograph of Shostakovich in 1925, which has already been reproduced in print and is considered a very good portrait of the young Shostakovich. This photo album suggests taking the precise date of this photo, juxtaposing it to the chronology of the symphony’s creation, and looking at the picture through different eyes. Here we see eighteen-year-old Shostakovich, who has just about finished the symphony, calm, satisfied, aware of the masterpiece he has composed, looking into the camera lens with wise and confident forbearance. And we understand how the photograph literally makes visible a specific moment in his creative life. So this album pays particular attention to the precise dating of photographs based on substantiated documental sources (letters, reminiscences, diaries, family photo albums, concert programmes) and the testimonies of eye-witnesses.
     The album has been organized in what can be called a two-vector arrangement—the composer’s external life (reflected in the picture) and the inner events of his creative work. The entire album is based on a comparison of these parallel existences, which in reality composed Shostakovich’s one and single life. In keeping with this principle, quite a number of ‘official’ photographs are included in the album, which record events far removed from art, but which nevertheless comprised a large part of the composer’s everyday life. Shostakovich himself is not even shown on some of the photographs, only the people closest to him—his parents, children, teachers, friends, and performers.
     As a rule, the facing pages of the album present one topic with a short orienting explanation including facts and dates. Although the choice and composition of the photos correspond to the main milestones in Shostakovich’s creative work, this was also dictated by the vibrancy and expressiveness of the photographs themselves.
     Preference is given to photos for which Shostakovich did not pose, but which were taken ex prompt in a relaxed atmosphere at work or in social settings. But the album also has some posed shots, whereby the work of the photographer is similar to the creative efforts of a sculptor or artist. The vision of the model which an artist must synthesize on his canvas during several, sometimes many, long and arduous posing sessions, the photographer must capture ‘ready-made’—an instant of complete candour, which will be presented in the shot as a work of photographic art. Several such photos from Shostakovich’s portrait iconography, which were taken by V. Dombrovsky, S. Khenkin, L. Levit, M. Nappelbaum, O. Tsesarsky, V. Vyatkin, and A. Zuyev, are part of the album and are placed alongside the graphic masterpieces of B. Kustodiev.