The SHERA board is delighted to announce that Emerging Scholar Prize Committee awarded the 2018 award to Dr. Aglaya K. Glebova of the University of California, Irvine. The jury members summarized their decision as follows:
Aglaya K. Glebova’s “Elements of Photography: Avant-garde Aesthetics and the Reforging of Nature” (Representations 142, Spring 2018) is highly innovative in its approach to the interpretation of a famously problematic episode in the career of Aleksandr Rodchenko: the work produced during his visit to the White Sea-Baltic Canal, one of the first Soviet forced labor camps, in the early 1930s. As Glebova argues, Rodchenko’s “in-the-moment” White Sea Canal photographs, especially the colorized ones, revolutionized visual thinking and also reveal the conflicting impulses inherent in the execution of the first five-year plan. Through a close reading of the artist’s photographs of nature and of a range of texts by, among others, Nikolai Chernyshevsky, Sergei Tretiakov, and Leon Trotsky, Glebova reframes Rodchenko’s apparent rejection of avant-garde aesthetics to introduce the critical potential of his work—and of the theme of landscape more generally—in relation to what she describes as the “official censure of formalism and ‘contemplation’” in this period. At the same time, she situates Rodchenko’s visceral disdain for nature—an attitude in line with the Soviet subjugation of the vision of nature that had been epitomized by bourgeois eighteenth- and nineteenth-century landscape paintings—in relation to the immediate will of “the people” and “the state.” Her incisive and original argument follows from an evocation of a paradox that yokes totalitarian policy to aesthetics and ultimately yields a new understanding of Rodchenko’s 1930s practice as ideologically incorrect and un-Soviet.