Is This the Russian Vivian Maier? 30,000 Negatives by an Unsung Street Photographer Turn Up in a St. Petersburg Attic

Years after Masha Ivashintsova's death, her daughter discovered a lifetime of Leningrad street photographs in the attic.

Self-Portrait, Leningrad, Dubroshkino, USSR (1989). Courtesy of Masha Galleries.

The hidden oeuvre of the late Soviet-era photographer Masha Ivashintsova has been unearthed in her attic in the Russian city of Saint Petersburg. Ivashintsova’s daughter accidentally discovered the several boxes of negatives and undeveloped film last year.

Switching between her Leica and Rolleiflex cameras, Ivashintsova captured some 30,000 photographs of her family and their life in communist Leningrad (today Saint Petersburg) throughout the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, in the years leading up to the fall of the Iron Curtain.

“Of course, I knew that my mother was taking pictures all along,” her daughter Asya Ivashintsova-Melkumyan told artnet News. “What was striking is that she never shared her works with anyone, not even her family.”

What has been revealed to the public so far is only a small portion of Ivashintsova’s extensive body of work. Her daughter and a few close family members are still working on scanning and developing the rest of film—a substantial undertaking. No exhibition or sales plans have been set yet, but her family says they have been fielding requests from galleries and collectors interested in acquiring the work.

The narrative is not unlike that of Vivian Maier, the American nanny and photographer whose work only came to light posthumously, when a body of her photographs was discovered in an auction locker in 2009. Like Maier, Ivashintsova captures the spirit of the times through her poignant black-and-white portraiture and street photography.

Ivashintsova was born in 1942 to an aristocratic family, who had their possessions seized following the Bolshevik Revolution. She worked as a theater critic and an artist before her mental health began to decline. By 1981, she was unemployed, which was illegal then, so Ivanshintsova was forced to admit herself into various of mental hospitals. She died of cancer at age 58.

“I see my mother as a genius, but she never saw herself as one—and never let anybody else see her for what she really was,” says Ivashintsova-Melkumyan.

See some of Ivanshintsova photos below. As her family scans further images, they will continue sharing them on their dedicated website and Instagram.

Leningrad, USSR (1976). Courtesy of Masha Galleries.

Leningrad, USSR (1976). Courtesy of Masha Galleries.

Leningrad, USSR (1977). Courtesy of Masha Galleries.

Leningrad, USSR (1976). Courtesy of Masha Galleries.

Leningrad, Nevsky prospekt, USSR (1976). Courtesy of Masha Galleries.

Pushkinskiye Gory, Pskovskaya Oblast, USSR (1976). Courtesy of Masha Galleries.

Self-Portrait, Leningrad. (1976). Courtesy of Masha Galleries.

Leningrad, USSR (1976). Courtesy of Masha Galleries.

Tbilisi, Russia (1991). Courtesy of Masha Galleries.

Saint-Petersburg, Russia (1991). Courtesy of Masha Galleries.

Melvar Melkumyan, Masha Ivashintsova’s husband, Leningrad, USSR (1976). Courtesy of Masha Galleries.

Leningrad, USSR (1978). Courtesy of Masha Galleries.

Leningrad, USSR (1979). Courtesy of Masha Galleries.

Leningrad, USSR (1976). Courtesy of Masha Galleries.

Carpathians, Ukranian SSR (1976). Courtesy of Masha Galleries.

Michurinsky garden in Leningrad, USSR (1975). Courtesy of Masha Galleries.

Vologda, USSR (1979). Courtesy of Masha Galleries.

Children’s plaground in Leningrad, Krasnoy Konnitsy (Red Cavalry) Street, USSR (1978).

Leningrad, USSR (1983). Courtesy of Masha Galleries.

Leningrad, USSR (1985). Courtesy of Masha Galleries.

Leningrad, USSR (1988). Courtesy of Masha Galleries.

Melvar Melkumyan, Central Dynamo Stadium, Moscow, USSR (1988). Courtesy of Masha Galleries.


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