Sovfoto: Binder 172: Presented in conjunction with Black History Month

17129: Anonymous photographer, Wayland Rudd in his election section, gelatin silver print, December 12, 1937. Print recto.
17130. M. Markov. Ksenia Abashidze, (left) a member of the N. Lakoba collective farm, picking maize on the farm with other members of the collective, gelatin silver print, ca. 1935. Print recto.
17131. Anonymous photographer, On December 12, negro Wayland Rudd took part in the elections to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR together with all the many millions of Soviet people, gelatin silver print, December 12, 1937. Print recto.
17132. G. Chernov, Wayland Rudd, an immigrant to the USSR from the USA, and now an actor of the K. Stanislavsky opera theatre in Moscow, on visit to Leningrad, casts his vote at the 17th precinct of the Kuibyshav election district, gelatin silver print, December 12, 1937. Print recto.
17133. Shakhovskoy, Wayland Rudd with his wife, gelatin silver print, December 1937. Print recto.
17134. D. Sholomovich, Wayland Rudd, an actor, dropping his ballot into the box at a polling station in the Sverdlov Election District of Moscow, gelatin silver print, March, 1950. Print recto.
17135. Anonymous photographer, Shown here is Wayland Rudd, the Negro actor with his children, at the ballot-box at a polling station of the Sverdlov election district, gelatin silver print, March 12, 1950. Print recto.
17136. Radin, Moscow – sports parade / Participants of the parade, gelatin silver print, n.d. Print recto.
17137. Markov. Soviet Negress in the Collective Farms of Southern Caucasus, gelatin silver print, December 1936. Print recto.
17138. Anonymous photographer, Producer and part of cast of Russian Film Production, gelatin silver print, n.d. Print recto.
17139. Markov, [illeg.] elections in the Soviet Union, gelatin silver print, December 1934. Print recto.
17140. Anonymous photographer, N. Lakoba collective farm, gelatin silver print, ca. 1935. Print recto.
17141. Anonymous photographer, Shamil Chanba reads his primer printed in the Akhazian language. His parents are Members of the N. Lakoba collective farm in the Ochemchir district of the Abkhazian Autonomous Soviet Republic, gelatin silver print, ca. 1935. Print recto.
February 4, 2014 - March 1, 2014

The MacLaren Art Centre is home to the Sovfoto Archive, 23,116 vintage silver gelatin prints of the Soviet Union from the 1936 to 1957. A working press archive, this collection is organized by topics considered newsworthy at the time. In honour of Black History Month we present Binder 172, sequenced as it was at the New York offices of Sovfoto in the mid-1950s. Titled, simply, “Blacks” this binder contains twelve photographs representing the lived experience of some 400,000 black Soviet citizens.

From the 1920s onwards, the Soviet government actively promoted itself as a place where racism had no foothold. Prominent African-American artists like Langston Hughes and Paul Robeson visited the USSR to see for themselves the utopian society that Soviet propaganda described. Others settled in the USSR, including actor Wayland Rudd who sought to escape the racism that he experienced working as an actor in the United States. Seen voting in several of these images, he was the public face for black Americans who immigrated looking for better opportunities in Communist-controlled countries. The Soviet Union held particular appeal for African-Americans in mixed-race marriages, illegal in several states before being banned at the federal level in 1967’s Loving v. Virgina Supreme Court decision.

These photographs are press prints that were taken in the Soviet Union and sent to Sovfoto in New York for distribution to American news media outlets. As such, they present only state-sanctioned views of the black experience in the Soviet Union. Displayed here are both the front and back of each of the twelve prints in this binder, showing both image and official caption for each photograph. While inherently flawed as historical documents, these prints nonetheless describe a little-known aspect of Soviet history.