Russian Civilization Comes to Salem

It seems fitting that as Russia celebrates the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Stalingrad, Salem State University has been hosting an exhibit of Russian photographs from the Navigator Foundation. “Renewal and Metamorphosis: Russian Photographs from the Navigator Foundation” is on view at the Winfisky Gallery in the Ellison Campus Center through February 7th.

“The mission of the Navigator Foundation is based on the belief that the medium of photography excels at universally communicating the individual reality and imaginative artistry of other countries and their peoples,” according to their website.

    In this show, the foundation accomplishes this mission by using emotionally charged pictures from Russian photographers. The photographs themselves are expressive enough, but when you add the presence of the Foundation’s director, Murray Forbes, they become incredibly captivating, due to his intoxicating passion for these images. Forbes has intimate knowledge of each and every photograph in the exhibit, which he shared during a lecture to roughly 50 or 60 students and guests at Salem State University last Tuesday.

The original exhibition contains 117 images while the Winfisky Gallery has a selection of only 26, still showcasing a great range of style and approaches of Russian Photography from World War II until the early 1990′s. “We have Russian artists who are famous in literature, art, music, the ballet and many other fields of arts but who are also very powerful in photography. This is Russian culture. It reflects today. It reflects the last 50 years,” says Forbes.

 Forbes informed the group that Russia does resemble America in some ways. Both countries have vast land that was acquired, settled, or occupied after 1800. However, this is where the commonalities seem to end. The first few images in the exhibit are used to express the emotions Russians felt during World War II. On February 2, 1943, the Battle of Stalingrad ended. It lasted roughly six months and historians believe approximately one million Russians died. Seeing the images of war and the aftermath through the eyes of Russian photographers shows how these cultures are quite different.


It’s estimated that the USSR lost close to 26 million people during World War II. Of the 26 million dead, eight million were Soviet soldiers. America has suffered tragedy and loss, but never such an enormous loss of life. During World War II, Russian citizens saw horrific things on a daily basis. These horrors affected everyone living in Russian society. Think of being a witness to the loss of 26 million people.These photographs do a wonderful job of expressing those real experiences.

While discussing an image taken by the photographer Sergei Zherkievich, the term civilization was introduced. Civilization is defined as, “an advanced state of human society, in which a high level of culture, science, industry, and government has been reached. ” Forbes called Zherkievich’s photo in the exhibit, “one of the greatest images of Russian photography in the last 50 years.” However, even though this particular photographer had tremendous artistic talent, he could not make a career out of it.

Looking out over a crowd of mostly college students, Forbes challenged them to become more valuable citizens. Acknowledging the college experience as a time to become educated and informed, he spoke of something more important, something beyond, called civilization. “We ought to reflect that when you go to college and whatever you do thereafter, part of the real object and a valuable by-product of going to college, learning, is to come closer to civilization,” he told them. “To know something about it.  To see into it. To have it in some way.”

Hopefully the crowd heard the calling.

Tyson Dion is a senior at Salem State University.

*Photos courtesy of the Navigator Foundation

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