Primrose: Early Colour Photography in Russia – The Photographers’ Gallery

Primrose: Early Colour Photography in Russia is an exhibition currently taking place at the Photographers’ Gallery just off Oxford Street. Being fascinated by Russia, I visited the Gallery on Thursday evening when it opens late. I was pleasantly surprised to see that entry is free – I am sure I had to pay last time I visited, so this was nice to see.

The exhibition looks at the development of colour photography in Russia from the 1860s to the 1970s. As well as the history of photography in Russia it is also concerned with the history of Russia in photography. This period was a time of turbulent change and the photographs really showcase this.

Arranged in chronological order, the exhibition begins with early hand-tinted images, moving to more developed photographs and eventually to photomontage and colour film. Societ authorities restricted the use of photography during the mid-20th century and it wasn’t until the 1970s, when inexpensive colour film was available to the general public via unofficial routes, that ordinary people could really exercise free choice over their photographs – even then they normally had to be shown in secret.

I was fascinated by the early tinted colour photographs, making me think of characters from Anna Karenina. They were not unlike our Victorians, though many, particularly children, were dressed in traditional Russian costume. At the turn of the century, the pictures started to remind me of Chekhov characters, as the clothes worn by the subjects of the images were very like those I have seen on stage. One standout image for me was the photograph of Tolstoy – he looks like a grumpy old man (which, in a very basic way, I suppose he was). Colour photographs – even those which have been hand-coloured – bring their subjects to life like black and white pictures can’t, and make their subjects seem much closer to us today.

Images from the following century made the Soviet era seem much more “real”. They were so vivid and clear – I loved looking not only at the people themselves, but at their surroundings, how they lived and what their spaces looked like.

This exhibition is on until the 19th of October – even if you’re not particularly interested in Russian history, I recommend a visit.

The Photographers’ Gallery

The Photographers’ Gallery

The Photographers’ Gallery is not somewhere I’d ever thought of visiting, but I had some spare time one Sunday afternoon so decided to pay it a visit. The Gallery is centrally located, just off Oxford Street, and entry is only £2.50 for National Art Pass holders (£4 full price). It has a camera obscura, a studio floor, a shop and café, and has a rotating programme of exhibitions. When I visited, the Gallery was host to exhibitions by Andy Warhol, David Lynch and William S. Burroughs.

David Lynch: The Factory Photographs

I started at the top of the building, so David Lynch’s photographs were the first I saw. These were definitely my favourites: I loved the cinematic, almost noir-like quality of the images. Of course Lynch is a well-known filmmaker: although I have to admit I have never seen any of his films, there was a clear cinematic influence on these images. They were largely pictures of factories and abandoned industrial sites, and had a brooding and bleak atmosphere, almost Romantic in the impression they gave of decay and a bygone era.

Taking Shots: William S. Burroughs

Burroughs was an influential 20th century American writer, but much less well known as a photographer. This year marks the centenary of his birth, and the Gallery is therefore hosting an exhibition of his work. They were interesting images, varied and vivid, which told stories of Burroughs’ journeys.

Andy Warhol: Photographs 1976-1987

Warhol is famous as an artist, but his photographs are less well known. I recognised his distinctive artistic style in many of the images, which incorporated brands and celebrities. I particularly liked the ‘stitched’ photographs, combining the easily reproduced photograph and the unique nature of the stitching.

What all three photographers had in common was that photography was not their primary field. I thought that this made their photographs more interesting in many ways, as their other interests influenced their photographic work.

These exhibitions have now finished, but the Gallery has an interesting programme of events coming up, so do check it out.


Address: 16-18 Ramillies Street, Soho, London, W1F 7LW


Opening Hours: 10am-6pm Mon-Sat, 11am-6pm Sun, late opening Thursdays during exhibitions

Prices: Vary depending on exhibition(s)