UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES)


The Return of the Ghost: an Excursion to the Kunstkammer of Early Soviet Colour Film and Photography

04 June 2024, 6:00 pm–8:00 pm

A frame-still of Stalin taken from Sergei Loznitsa’s State Funeral

Please join us for Professor Phil Cavendish's Inaugural Lecture

This event is free.

Event Information

Open to









Gustave Tuck Lecture Theatre
Wilkins Building
Gower street

This lecture is conceptualized as an excursion to a museum, an imagined museum, which contains exhibits pertaining to the early history of Soviet colour film and photography. For many years, and for a variety of different reasons, these exhibits have been inaccessible to the public. In recent years, however, thanks to digital technology, they have gradually emerged into the light of day. Their resurrection poses questions in relation to perceptions of the Stalinist past, conditioned as they are predominantly by forms of representation in black and white. The production of cinematic and photographic images in colour in the Soviet Union was shaped by a number of specific ideological, cultural, and aesthetic discourses. This lecture investigates the genesis and evolution of these discourses between 1935 and 1953. It considers the political imperatives that determined the acquisition of colour-film technology in the Soviet Union, and the cultural tasks to which the new technology was dedicated. It also examines the degree to which the digital exhibits in the imagined museum can be trusted as authentic representations of Soviet reality during this period. The lecture is accompanied by slides showing thirty-eight exhibits in this museum. In many respects, their return into the public domain after years of concealment possesses something in the way of a ghostly resonance or haunting. The adoption of the term kunstkammer in the title of the lecture (‘cabinet of curiosities’ in English) reflects the exotic nature of the exhibits in question. The image that features as part of this invitation is a frame-still taken from Sergei Loznitsa’s State Funeral, a documentary released in Ukraine in 2019.

This event will take place in-person and will be livestreamed online.


Philip Cavendish…
Philip Cavendish is Chair of Russian and Soviet Film Studies at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London. He has written extensively on the visual language of Russian and Soviet cinema: the theory and practice of camera operation; the relationship between technological development and aesthetic practice; and the conceptual interactions between cinema and the related visual arts. He is currently writing a monograph on the history and ontology of Soviet colour film and photography during the Stalinist era. This monograph examines the political imperatives that shaped official polices in relation to colour-film technology; the aesthetic discourses that emerged in relation to this new technology; and their manifestation in the fiction films, documentary films, and animations of the period. It also introduces a comparative dimension by investigating analogous developments in the sphere of colour film and photography in Nazi Germany during the late 1930s and early 1940s.

Image credit: A frame-still taken from Sergei Loznitsa’s State Funeral, a documentary released in Ukraine in 2019.