Facing the Monument: Facing the Future

11 March 2015 | By Bazarov

'Bolt' and the problem of Soviet ballet, 1931

16 February 2015 | By Ivan Sollertinsky

Some Thoughts on the Ballets Russes Abroad

16 December 2014 | By Isabel Stockholm

Last Orders for the Grand Duchy

11 December 2014 | By Bazarov

Rozanova and Malevich – Racing Towards Abstraction?

15 October 2014 | By Mollie Arbuthnot

Walter Spies, Moscow 1895 – Indonesia 1942

13 August 2014 | By Bazarov

The Genius of Erte

28 April 2014 | By Rachel Hajek

Solidarity, people!

24 March 2014 | By Renée-Claude Landry

Guest Blog | Pulsating Crystals

17 February 2014 | By Robert Chandler Chandler

Guest Blog | Stenbergs' Faces

03 February 2014 | By Paul Rennie

Shostakovich: A Russian Composer?

05 December 2013 | By Bazarov

Travelling with intourist

31 July 2013 | By Richard Barling

Guest Blog | Stenbergs' Faces

03 February 2014 | By Paul Rennie

We had an interesting discussion at GRAD's exhibition Kino/Film: Soviet Posters of the Silent Screenin London last week.

At one point, we were thinking and talking about whether the Stenbergs' distinctive big faces were appropriate. There was some suspicion of the “Mary Pickford style” lipstick and so on. I think the word bourgeois was actually used…

I’ve posted before about how the image of the human face changes in relation to technology and meaning. Mostly, I’ve been interested in issues of physiognomy that are attached to madness and disorder, but the ideas can just as easily be applied to the theme of desire in film and fashion. In general, the first portraits were profiles and flat faces that emphasised the symmetry of facial features. Three-quarter portraiture and directional lighting combined, from the 18th century onwards, to provide a more dramatic modelling of the face. This was used by social elites to make themselves appear more beautiful and dramatic.

Models, actresses and princesses all make use of these effects; Kate Moss, Kate Cambridge and Rebecca Hall, for example.

Actually, this kind of image was widely used in the Soviet period and by a number of designers – not least Alexandr Rodchenko. The look of the silent film was certainly a bit intense and melodramatic, but it was authentic; it is not made any more beautiful than it is. The close-cropping of the image has the effect of scaling it up to something that looks cinematic, even on the page or as a poster. The lighting effects are quite even, there’s light from above, below and from the side. This gives the eyes a very dramatic modelling that is distinct from the classic “big eyes” of a fashion shoot.

In the image above, the point of view is from slightly above; neither looking down, nor up. So, it’s a frank look, straight in the eye. The photograph is of Lilya Brik, muse of the poet Vladimir Mayakovsky.

Paul Rennie is Head of Context in Graphic Design at Central St Martins, London. This blog post was originally published on his blog, Off The Wall.