Max Penson was born in 1893 in Velizh, near Witebsk. In 1911 he enrolled at the school of ceramics in Mirgorod in today's Ukraine. He subsequently moved to Vilna, Lithuania where he studied mainly decoration and mural painting. After completing his studies he returned to his home town but did not stay long as Velizh was the first victim of the Jewish pogroms in Russia. Penson fled to Central Asia, and in 1917 he was appointed to the department of general education as head of the educational institutions of Uzbekistan.
In 1921 the district of Fergana awarded Penson a camera for his outstanding activities as a teacher and this changed the artist's life. In 1923 he moved to Tashkent and gradually began working as a professional photographer including for 'Pravda Vostoka'. Penson's favorite form of photography was portraiture however he travelled extensively documenting the various stages of reform which were in progress in Uzbekistan under Soviet rule.
From 1926 to 1928 he photographed the development of the collective farms and the photograph proposed for acquisition would have been taken at this time. In this tightly cropped photograph, children with happy faces fill the frame. One of them is playing a trumpet while the others squint or look directly into the camera with expressive smiles. The crowding of the faces into the frame, the strong light and the compositional play between the round trumpet and the faces is representative of the political and social ideals and aesthetic ideas in the photography of the period. It is a beautiful example of documentary photography, which combines clever composition with fine printing.
In 1937 Penson was involved with the USSR pavilion at the World Exhibition in Paris, and he was awarded the Grand Prix for his photograph of the 'Uzbek Madonna'. In 1939 the artist was commissioned to document the construction of the gigantic Fergana canal - a construction which also attracted photographers such as Max Alpert and Alexander Rodchenko from Moscow. In the same year Penson contributed more than 300 photographs to the exhibition (jointly organised with Rodchenko) which commemorated the 15th anniversary of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic. After the War Penson's situation changed and in 1948 the KGB forbade him to continue working as a press photographer. Unhappy and forgotten he died in 1959.
Referenced in 1 publication
Erika Billeter, Usbekistan: Documentary Photography 1925-1945, Bern, 1997.