March 01, 2012

Tea-Drinking Trinity

Tea-Drinking Trinity

In the late 1920s the photojournalist Boris Ignatovich worked as photo editor for the daily newspaper Bednota (“Poverty”), a publication aimed at the Soviet Union’s population of newly literate peasants. This newspaper takes center stage in Ignatovich’s iconic photograph from 1928, “Drinking Tea in the Village of Ramenskoye,” one of a series of documentary photographs from the village of Ramenskoye, a workers’ settlement on the outskirts of Moscow.

Although Ignatovich was attracted to industry – like other Soviet photographers, he celebrated factories and machines and labor – he was also interested in leisure, as this image clearly shows. The meaningful pursuit of leisure – collective leisure, in particular – was an important facet of the young Soviet government’s attempt to acculturate workers and peasants. (Alexander Rodchenko’s famous Worker’s Club, designed for the Soviet exhibit at the 1925 International Exposition of Decorative Arts and Modern Industry, included a reading room for the workers’ edification.) And because literacy was an important goal, the Communist Party distributed official “organs” like Bednota both to educate the public and to propagandize.

Another explicit goal of the Soviet government was to overcome vulgar behavior (вульгарность) and the so-called “remnants of the old way of life” (пережитки старого быта). One way to do so was to turn the dives the peasants liked to frequent into more wholesome gathering places, where tea was served instead of alcohol, and where reading material was available. A cheerful décor and tasty snacks replaced unsavory atmosphere and greasy food. It was believed that this kind of ambience would raise the cultural level of the workers and peasants, and then slovenliness would give way to cleanliness, vulgarity to civilized speech.

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