From Steve Edwards’s chapter “‘Profane Illumination:’ Photography and Photomontage in the USSR and Germany,” in Art of the Avant-Gardes, ed. Steve Edwards and Paul Wood (London: The Open University/Yale University Press, 2004), 408-409:

[…] Rodchenko’s extreme viewpoints can be seen as a version of the Russian Formalist theory of “defamiliarization” or “making strange” […]. The Formalists were literary and linguistic scholars, working before and immediately after the First World War, who argued that everyday perception was dull, static and habitual. “Our perception has withered away,” suggested the prominent Formalist Viktor Shklovsky, “what has remained is mere recognition.” The Formalists advocated literary techniques that sliced through routinized views of the world. The principle way that they thought this could be achieved was by “foregrounding the device,” or calling attention to the construction of the literary text as a way of increasing the reader’s attention. By focusing on the techniques and procedures employed to make works of art, the Formalists believed, the world could be made to appear strange again, heightening consciousness of the artwork. Prewar Formalism was largely apolitical, but after the Russian Revolution the theorists associated with LEF gave these ideas a left-wing turn, arguing that atrophied perception was a consequence of bourgeois consciousness. Capitalist ideology, they claimed, mystified perception, because it was based on mere appearances rather than on the actual relationships that structured society: bourgeois perception was deemed individualist, static and formal, rather than dynamic, contradictory and collective. According to the left avant-garde, the first condition for any critical art was to draw attention to its own status as representation or ideology: art was to be used to reveal the illusion, not to conceal it. This politicized version of Formalism came to be known as the “formalist-sociological method.” Rodchenko’s unusual points of view should be seen in the light of this theory. His extreme angles of vision draw attention to the role of the camera in making images and invite the viewer to consider new ways of looking at everyday life. These unusual perspectives were designed to pull viewers up short, causing them to reflect on what they were seeing. Elizar Langman, a photographic colleague of Rodchenko, summed up this perspective, claiming his own tilted horizons were intended to “irritate the viewer with something, to kick him out of a dull standard.” […]

[emphasis added]

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