BACK BACK IN IN THE THE USSR USSR -- 1956 1956
by by Peter Peter Bock-Schroeder Bock-Schroeder
German photographer Peter Bock-Schroeder’s story reads a bit like a movie: larger-than-life with plenty of plot twists. The first German photographer allowed into the USSR following the post WWII peace treaty between Germany and Russia, Bock-Schroeder sought images of every day life behind “The Iron Cur tain” in 1956. - LensWork 2010
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Peter Bock-Schroeder 1956 - Autoportrait
In 1956, one year after the peace treaty between Russia and Germany, Peter Bock-Schroeder was the first West-German photographer to get permission to work in the USSR. The Assignment came from a West German Film Production. The task was to travel with a international film crew on the production of the documentary: Russia today, We saw with our eyes.
Metro Moscow 1956
The film had been approved by the Soviet authorities. It was made under the same conditions in which all Western journalists in the Soviet Union worked at the time. In almost a year’s production, they created the documentary under unimaginable difficulties. Several times the German and the Russian film crews had threatened to cancel the production. After months of hard fought negotiations the German production company and the Moscow Central Documentary Film Studio agreed on the version of the respective authorities and their censorship institutions, although sometimes grudgingly given. The Soviets, who came up for all the expenses of the four western camera groups in the USSR, were granted an extensive veto, control and par ticipation rights. All photographs, text and editing had to be “tuned” with the Soviets. Section three of the contract provided: “theme of the film is the objective repor ting of the USSR, the work of the Soviet people, their everyday lives, their ar t, recreation and other aspects of social and cultural life.” Most of the discussion focused on the core word “objective.”
Sculptor M. Maniser, Lenigrad 1956
It turned out that the suppor t of the Moscow Central Studio was a more of a burden. Especially in the Caucasian republics the escort from the capital were noticeable unwelcome. In the Georgian capital of Tiflis, the head of the Georgian film production - every Soviet Republic had its own film studio - made clear, that he would not lift a finger to suppor t a film under the misleading title of “Russia Today”. “The Soviet Union is not Russia and Russia not the Soviet Union”, he said.
Added to that there was the eternal rivalry between the various authorities and organizations. In Baku, it required patients and a special ministerial permission, to visit the oil fields. A local trade union committee complained about the fact that the crew photographed a Barack idyll with dirty laundry.
Hydro-electric Power Plant, Stalingrad 1956
Tractor Factory, Stalingrad 1956
Since Stalin gave the order to completely rebuild the city of Stalingrad in 1945 for reasons of prestige, it was difficult to find anything reminiscent of perhaps the greatest tragedy of World War II in the city. I had expected to find ruins, but despite my best efforts I could only discover buildings in the customary confectionary style.There was an old observatory presented to the city as a gift from East Germany, in which I saw the original Russian film Stalingrad. Deeply stirred by this staggering documentary, I took a taxi straight to the tractor factory that had been so bitterly fought over, and then to Mamai Hill, which had attained the tragic fame of having soaked up the blood of thousands of soldiers from both armies. It is astounding: nothing there reminds you of the huge battle except a tank turret on a stone pedestal and an inscription. For me, that photo is Stalingrad. Sure, there aremuch more scenic shots you can take of the Volga, but this is the way it appeared to me, a little grey and eerie, because I knew what a significant role it had played in the winter of 42/43 when it was frozen over. - Peter Bock-Schroeder, 1956
Mamai Hill, Stalingrad 1956
When they filmed backyards in Moscow, they were stopped by a Soviet film official. Showing a glossy picture book of Hamburg, he had brought along, he pointed out: â€œHere, no german backyards are shown in this book, so why do you want to photograph backyards in the Soviet Union? â€œ
War Heroes, Moscow 1956
Filmset, Moscow 1956
In spite of the close supervision by a suspicious minder that follow him everywhere, Peter Bock-Schroeder managed to avoid censorship most of the times. The silent click of his Rolleiflex twin lens camera helped him to work almost unnoticed from the authorities. He had travelled the world for almost a decade prior to the Russia job and was used to difficult work circumstances.
Oil Fields, Bakku 1956
For the Western cameramen there was a seemingly unbridgeable differences in mentality. Soviet documentaries in the 1950â€™s, exemplary in their graphs, landscapes and wildlife shots, did not include the human experience: Everything in it was directed to propaganda effects.
Horse Race, Moscow 1956
The night before returning to Berlin Bock-Schroeder sewed most of the exposed rolls of film into his trench coat and brought his work out of Russia into the west.
When the Filmâ€™s final version was presented in German Cinemas, in August 1957, it offered the viewer the perspective of a western tourist following the wishes of a Soviet travel agency. In contrast, Peter Bock-Schroederâ€™s photographs captured the authentic and candid view of the USSR in the post Stalin years.
Metro Moscow, 1956
Department Store GUM, Moscow 1956
First Bell, Moscow 1956
After returning from Russia I was often asked what it was â€œreally like over thereâ€?, whether the taxis were old or new, if there were omnibuses and hairdressers, whether there were fashion stores, photo studios, friendly policemen, popsicles and all that, and I tried to answer all these questions to the best of my ability. But there was one question that was posed particularly insistently:What are the Russians like? Are they polite and friendly, charming or gruff, are they open-minded? After thinking about it for some time, I always only came up with one answer : that the human being is shaped by the surroundings in which he lives. And that is par ticularly true of Russia. For me, the shot of the crowd at the All-Union Agricultural Exhibition in Moscow is, as strange as it may sound, a landscape photograph. - Peter Bock-Schroeder, 1956
Bock-Schroeder developed the rolls of film and kept them for himself. Asked by the West German Secret Service Agency if he had been able to bring uncensored and “interesting” material to the West, he denied having anything of interest. The only reason for him to take the risk of “smuggling” his work out of the USSR was that he disapproved censorship.
All photographs by Peter Bock-Schroeder (1913 -2001) ÂŠ 2013 Visual Independence Publishing with kind permission by the Peter Bock-Schroeder Estate
© 2013 VISUAL INDEPENDENCE PUBLISHING www.visualindependence.com