Red All Over: World War II Press Photographs From the Sovfoto Agency

The Image Centre ⁠ accessible_forward
33 Gould St
Apr 6–May 7
    Unidentified photographer, [T-34 tank], 1942. Courtesy of the MacLaren Art Centre, Barrie, Ontario

New York City-based agency Sovfoto was the sole supplier of Soviet photojournalist images in North America during the 20th century. Throughout the Second World War, photographs distributed by the agency revealed the impact of battle on the Eastern Front. Red All Over presents over 65 Sovfoto photographs taken in the USSR and Eastern Europe during this critical period.

Since the turn of the 20th century, news outlets have disseminated press photographs to visually translate global events to wide audiences, shaping public understanding in the process. From 1939 to 1945, press photographs brought the international conflict to life for North American audiences who were physically removed from war-torn territories abroad. Throughout the war, Sovfoto provided a glimpse into the “other side,” depicting various aspects of the Soviet experience.

Established in 1931 by founder and first owner Helen Black (1890–1951), Sovfoto acquired photographs from Soviet suppliers on consignment, which were then licensed to all major news outlets, including wire agencies, newspapers, and illustrated magazines. Sovfoto continues to be active today as Sovfoto/Eastfoto stock photo agency. Part of the archive is held by the MacLaren Art Centre in Barrie, Ontario, comprising a collection of some 23,116 gelatin silver prints spanning the years 1936 to 1957.

Through a curated display of Second World War photographs culled from this archive, Red All Over questions viewers’ expectations of press photography. It compares image and caption pairings, examines the process of photographic retouching for reproduction in print, and explores the photographs’ circulation in Life magazine, the pre-eminent American picture weekly. The exhibition interrogates how traditional practices of photojournalism (captioning, retouching, and circulation) have contributed to shaping our comprehension of the Second World War. By providing a new context for these images, Red All Over allows for more nuanced and layered interpretations of a seminal historical moment.

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All photographs included in this exhibition are gelatin silver prints made between 1939 and 1945. They are part of the Sovfoto archive, on loan from the MacLaren Art Centre in Barrie, Ontario.

*Content Advisory
This exhibition contains graphic images, including depictions of liberated concentration camps, dead or wounded individuals, and execution scenes.

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Curated by the 2020–2021 second-year students in Ryerson University’s Film + Photography Preservation and Collections Management program

Presented in partnership with the Ryerson Image Centre

Installation Views

    Various photographers, Red All Over: World War II Press Photographs From the Sovfoto Agency, installation view, Ryerson Image Centre Gallery, 2022. Courtesy of the MacLaren Art Centre and the RIC. Photo © James Morley, Ryerson Image Centre
    Various photographers, Red All Over: World War II Press Photographs From the Sovfoto Agency, installation view, Ryerson Image Centre Gallery, 2022. Courtesy of the MacLaren Art Centre and the RIC. Photo © James Morley, Ryerson Image Centre
    Various photographers, Red All Over: World War II Press Photographs From the Sovfoto Agency, installation view, Ryerson Image Centre Gallery, 2022. Courtesy of the MacLaren Art Centre and the RIC. Photo © James Morley, Ryerson Image Centre
    Various photographers, Red All Over: World War II Press Photographs From the Sovfoto Agency, installation view, Ryerson Image Centre Gallery, 2022. Courtesy of the MacLaren Art Centre and the RIC. Photo © James Morley, Ryerson Image Centre
    Various photographers, Red All Over: World War II Press Photographs From the Sovfoto Agency, installation view, Ryerson Image Centre Gallery, 2022. Courtesy of the MacLaren Art Centre and the RIC. Photo © James Morley, Ryerson Image Centre
    Various photographers, Red All Over: World War II Press Photographs From the Sovfoto Agency, installation view, Ryerson Image Centre Gallery, 2022. Courtesy of the MacLaren Art Centre and the RIC. Photo © James Morley, Ryerson Image Centre