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Markov-Grinberg photograph of a Ukrainian coal miner and iconic Soviet worker hero

Object | Accession Number: 2005.565.7

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    Brief Narrative
    Photographic print of Ukrainian miner, Nikita Izotov, by Mark Markov-Grinberg. In 1934, Markov-Grinberg was commissioned by TASS to create a photo essay about a day in the life of coal miner Nikita Izotov. Markov was to depict Izotov as a progressive man and show the good life of Soviet miners. He lived for six months with the Izotov family and created an iconic portrait of the Socialist worker hero. The published photo essay circulated in European publications, including Belgium and France, and the full series of fourteen photographs appeared in the German Workers Illustrated Newspaper. The Izotov photo essay was a sensation in Russia and launched Markov-Grinberg's career as a Stalin-era photographer. He was a major Social Realist photographer during the 1930s-1940s, working for major newspapers and journals. He was a war correspondent during the Soviet-Finnish War from 1939-1940 and, in 1941, was drafted to fight in World War II. While a soldier, he continued his work as a photographer and army correspondent. After the war, Markov-Grinberg returned to his job at TASS.
    Artwork Title
    Nikita Izotov, Distinguished Miner of Donbass Coal Region, Ukraine
    depiction:  1934
    creation: Donets Basin (Ukraine and Russia)
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Stephen Nicholas
    back, center, script, pencil : M. Markov-Grinberg
    Artist: Mark Markov-Grinberg
    Subject: Mark Markov-Grinberg
    Mark Borisovich Markov-Grinberg was born on November 27, 1907, in Rostov-on-Don, Russia. He learned photography at secondary school. In 1925, he took his first job as a photographer for the Sovetsky Yug (Soviet South) newspaper and worked as a freelance correspondent for Ogonyok magazine. In 1926, Markov-Grinberg moved to Moscow and worked for various trade union newspapers and the magazine, Krasnoarmeyskaya Smena (Transformation). In 1930, he accepted an offer to work for the Fotokhronika TASS (Telegraph Agency of the Soviet Union). He traveled around the country photographing the official Soviet Union: major construction projects, collective farms, and happy workers engaged in building Soviet Society, as well as prominent Russian and foreign personalities. His photographs appeared in major Soviet publications, including USSR in Construction, a magazine that documented Stalin’s Five-Year Plans to industrialize the Soviet Union. In 1934, TASS commissioned Markov-Grinberg to create a photo essay detailing a day in the life of Ukrainian miner, Nikita Izotov. He created an iconic portrait of Izotov as a Socialist worker hero. The Izotov photo essay launched Markov-Grinberg's career as a Stalin-era photographer and he became one of the most important photographers of his generation. His work was part of the socialist realist movement in photography which pictured life as it should be in idealized images made to look like objective recordings of things as they were.
    During the Soviet-Finnish War (1939-1940), Markov-Grinberg worked for TASS as a war correspondent and documented the fighting on the Karelian Isthmus. In September 1941, he was drafted into the Red Army, and continued to take photographs. He became the army correspondent for the military publication, Slovo Boitsa (Soldier’s World), in July 1943. He created well-known images of the Battle of Kursk and the crematorium at Stutthof concentration camp, when it was liberated on May 9, 1945, by the Soviet Army.
    Markov-Grinberg lost his job with TASS in 1948 as a result of the anti-Semitic climate of late Stalinism. After his demobilization in 1953, he worked as a photographer for the Red Army Illustrated Gazette and, later, for the photography publishing office of the Soviet Union Agricultural Exhibition, a theme park about the People’s Economy. From 1957–1973, Markov-Grinberg worked for the Club and Art Hobby magazine. He took part in photography exhibitions in the USSR and abroad. An honorary member of the Russian Union of Art Photographers, Markov-Grinberg died in 2006 at the age of 99.

    Physical Details

    Physical Description
    Black and white ferrotyped gelatin silver print, portrait orientation, depicting a soot-covered, male coal miner. He fills the frame, head almost in profile, tilting up to the right. Dirt and stubble cover his face, neck, and clothes; a shock of blonde hair falls onto his forehead, and heavily lashed eyes look downward. He wears a domed metal hat with cracks, that slopes to a narrow brim. The light source comes from the top right corner, and hits the top of the hat, casting shadows over his forehead, left ear, and right neck and shoulder. Hanging around his neck is a round, reflective, metal light on a cable. His textured, woven undergarment shows 2 buttons, the top one undone. His coarsely woven cloth jacket has lapels and a collar. The mine shaft tower and other background buildings are very faint behind his tight, close-up image and do not compete with the textured, highly detailed reality of the miner. Inscribed on the reverse are the artist’s signature, the year, and the title.
    overall: Height: 23.500 inches (59.69 cm) | Width: 19.880 inches (50.495 cm)
    overall : paper, emulsion, gelatin silver print
    back, center, Russian script, pencil : 1934 [Symbol]
    back, top left corner, pencil :10 within a circle
    back, bottom left, pencil : 5000.10.5

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    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    The photograph was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2005 by Dr. Stephen Nicholas.
    Record last modified:
    2022-07-28 18:29:02
    This page:

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