Some of the most visually arresting graphics created for the Soviet cinema of the 1920s were developed by Vladimir and Georgii Stenberg, better known as simply the Stenberg Brothers. Their groundbreaking use of acid colors, fractured planes, and distorted perspectives converted the necessarily realistic nature of film marketing into stunningly complex and uniquely captivating designs.
Vladimir Stenberg Georgii Stenberg
Born only a year apart from each other—Vladimir in 1899 and Georgii in 1900—to a Swedish father and a Russian mother, the brothers always worked in tandem: a later photo of them taken in their studio shows how closely related their work spaces were, and is indicative of their unique teamwork.
The Stenberg Brothers in their studio, c. 1930
Their first film poster was for a movie titled The Eyes of Love in 1923. They initially signed it “Sten,” as they were unsure of further commissions, but after the successful completion of their third poster, the signature was changed to “2Stenberg2,” which was used on all subsequent work. One visual device the Stenbergs incorporated into their work was the placement of broad swaths of contrasting hues to create a sense of vibration and movement. They also utilized unprecedented amounts of black as a background color.
The Eyes of Love, 1923
What truly made their cinema work remarkable, though, were their dynamic and innovative layouts, accomplished through their singular use of montage. However, what appear to be photographs are in fact tightly-rendered drawings. Much like the state of printing in Germany at that time, the printing of quality photographs was rarely achievable, particularly for the large runs necessary for film advertising. The process the Stenbergs developed to overcome this situation was a projection machine that allowed them to visually blow-up reference images, as well as distort them for effect.
The Traitor, 1926 Man from the Forest, 1928
On a practical level, this allowed them to create hand-drawn, large-scale simulacra of film stills that retained the appearance of photomontage, yet were easily printable. Aesthetically, the distortions and scaling also permitted them to inject a vivid sense of cinematic movement into what is essentially a static form. These techniques were also utilized in the creation of ancillary material for the film industry, as in the two wrapper proofs below, both currently on display in our Construcitivist exhibition.
A Decent Life
In all, the Stenberg Brothers created almost 300 film posters, and numerous related materials. They also developed sets and costumes for the theater; designed clothing and shoes; contributed to LEF; participated in the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris; and taught at the Architecture-Construction Institute in Moscow. Their unique partnership ended tragically in 1933, when Georgii was killed in a motorcycle accident. Vladimir continued working in design, but never achieved singly what was accomplished so powerfully in teamwork with his brother.