El Lissitzky was a Russian photographer, designer, artist, architect, polemicist and typographer. Born on 23rd November 1890, he grew up and studied in Belarus. There he went to the Smolensk Grammar School. He had talent and interest in drawing and started a course at the age of 13 from a Jewish artist, Yehuda Pen. He became so good that by the time he was 15 years old, he began instructing students.
He wanted to join an art academy in Saint Petersburg, in 1909, however he didn’t get admission. This was because according to the Tsarist law, only a certain number of Jews could go to Russian educational institutes. So, he went to Germany to learn architectural engineering. During summers in 1912, he traveled to Paris and educated himself about sketching landscapes and structures as well as about fine art. Some of his pieces were shown at the St.Petersburg Artists Union’s exhibition. This proved to be a notable step towards success.
Unfortunately, because of World War I, he had to leave Germany and return to Russia passing Switzerland, with other artists like Marc Chagall and Wassily Kandinsky. Once he came back to Moscow, he started going to Polytechnic Institute of Riga and working for Roman Klien and Boris Velikovsky. During this time, he took an active interest in the culture of Jews that interested him back in Paris during the summer visit. The culture was going through a renaissance after the Tsarist regime and El Lissitzky became engrossed with Jewist art. He studied traditional ornaments, designs and architecture which was illustrated in many Yiddish books for children. This was his start in designing books. His design appeared in Sihas Hulin: Eyne fun di geshikhten, a book published in 1917.
In El Lissitsky: Beyond the Abstract Cabinet, Lissitzky’s photographic work is explored, a part of his career which hasn’t received much attention. The exhibition in Hannover at Germany’s Sprengel Museum in 1999, focused on the photographer’s work as well as graphic design and photomontage which were made during 1920s and 30s.
Margarita Tupitsyn included the essays by Ulrich Pohlmann and Mathew Drutt in her book The Societ Photograph (1924 to 1937). This book was aimed at an audience with an interest in Russian photography and modernism. The essays in this book brought Lissitzky’s work to limelight. The essays mention various aspect of his work. From 1922 to 1925, Lissitzky experimented with photograph collage and photograms.
While working on photograms, Lissitzky experimented with photomontage as well. He was able to achieve vibrant compositions using several printing exposures in order to utilize the effects of transparency. These experiments help him in many advertisements he produced starting from 1924 until 1925.
Constructor was Lissitzky’s unforgettable photographs from 1920s. It was a self portrait made by using complex photographic layers. The image was of him pretending to be an engineer and a hand of an artist with a compass.
During the time when photography was on Lissitzsky’s mind, he collaborated with Dziga Verto (filmmaker) to release Man with a Movie Camera.
Lissitzky’s photomontages, mobile walls and large format photos displayed in exhibitions, like the Pressa exhibit, Cologne; International Fur Trade Exhibition, Leipzig; Film and Photography exhibit, Stuttgart; and International Hygiene Exhibition, Dresden serve as a means for inspiration for upcoming designers like German Herbert Bayer.
El Lissitzsky is mostly discussed in relation to abstract art and design. His photography received much less recognition. However, it did exist and it followed on the same patterns as his other work.