I am an enthusiastic graphic designer, I have been fortunate to explore various design practices and perspectives, from intercultural to decolonized design, as I have transitioned from China to America.

Currently, I am pursuing my second master's degree in the Design and Environmental Analysis program at Cornell University. I invite you to join me in my world of design and photography utopia.

Linghao Li |李凌昊
MA Design in D+EA ‘24 
MA Graphic Design and Visual Experience ‘22
BFA Visual Communication Design ‘16
Cornell University|SCAD|TAFA
+ 1 912-391-7213 | ll933@cornell.edu
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Throughout my academic and professional journey in past, I have been exposed to various aspects of research and design theory. However, my practical design work has primarily relied on existing research findings, and I hadn't actively engaged in in-depth research to analyze and comprehend design challenges from diverse perspectives. This inclination towards practice-based education likely contributed to my previous approach. Nevertheless, a pivotal shift occurred when I embarked on my research-based education in the United States.

Building upon my foundation in design theory and art education, I have significantly broadened my research interests. During my time at Cornell University's Human-Centered Design Department, I had the privilege of delving into Pluriversal Design in a systematic manner under the guidance of Dr. Renata. Simultaneously, I pursued a minor in Anthropology, mentored by Dr. Viranjini Munasinghe. This multifaceted academic exposure, encompassing Environmental Psychology, Human-Centered Design, Cultural Anthropology, Linguistic Anthropology, and Pluriversal Design, propelled me into the world of research and helped me carve out my unique research path.

Presently, my research pursuits are centered around several compelling themes. I am particularly intrigued by the intersection of education and the development of nationalities and national languages, the challenges posed by hybrid typography within distinct writing systems, and the intricate relationship between design and human society. These investigations span the domains of cultural anthropology, linguistic anthropology, and design anthropology. My enthusiasm for these subjects knows no bounds, and I wholeheartedly invite you to explore more about me and my research in the following messages. This passion fuels my commitment to creating a utopian future through my work. Welcome to my academic journey.

Propaganda and Artistry: A Comparative Analysis of 'The USSR in Construction' and 'Fornt' in Soviet and Japanese Photobooks
  • 23FA

  • ARTH 6545 The Photobook
    Prof. A. Moisey

The USSR in Construction; Illustrated magazine; Socialist realism; Soviet Union; Maxim Gorky; Industrialization; Stalin's regime; Oversized pages; Multi-page fold-outs; Photojournalists; Photographic montages; Japanese propaganda magazine

The USSR in Construction," an illustrated magazine published intermittently from 1930 to 1949, represents a significant artistic achievement of early socialist realism in the Soviet Union (Feldman, 2011). Initially edited by Maxim Gorky, the magazine, available in several languages, aimed to highlight the Soviet Union's vast construction and industrialization efforts under Stalin's regime. Featuring oversized pages and multi-page fold-outs, it showcased the Soviet people's technological and industrial progress through specific themes. The journal employed works by famous writers and photographic montages by prominent Soviet photojournalists, reflecting the avant-garde artistry of the period. Similarly, the Japanese propaganda magazine "Front," inspired by its Soviet counterpart and published during World War II, used photomontages to propagate political narratives  (Germer, 2015). Both publications illustrate the complex interplay of art, propaganda, and politics during significant historical periods. The USSR in Construction" and "Front" were not just mere photobooks with creative typography and publishing methods; their study holds significant value in understanding the interplay of visual art and political messaging. These magazines transcended traditional publishing norms, employing innovative designs, layouts, and photographic techniques to not only document but also influence public perception and ideology. By analyzing these publications, scholars can gain insights into how visual media was strategically used to shape narratives and national identities, reflecting broader socio-political dynamics of their respective eras. Thus, their examination is crucial for comprehending the powerful role of visual propaganda and artistic expression in historical and political contexts.

Literature Review

The History of The USSR in Construction

The rapid growth of socialist construction in the Soviet Union is evoking great interest in foreign countries. The State Publishing House of the RSFSR has therefore conceived the idea to publish a special illustrated magazine The USSR in Construction, reflecting the colossal construction now taking place in the Soviet Union. The State Publishing House has chosen the photo as a method to illustrate socialist construction, for the photo speaks much more convincingly in many cases than even the most brilliantly written article (Wolf, 1999). The editorial board of The USSR in Construction hopes that this magazine will meet merited attention on the part of those interested in the progress of socialist construction in the USSR. 

"USSR in Construction," published intermittently from 1930 to 1949, stands as an artistic highlight of the early socialist realism era (Feldman, 2011). Notable for its innovative design, including oversized pages and multi-page fold-outs, the journal was a creative marvel edited initially by Maxim Gorky. It was disseminated in multiple languages: Russian, French, English, German, and later Spanish. The magazine aimed to showcase the Soviet Union's extensive construction and industrialization efforts, portraying it as a burgeoning industrial power. Each issue centered on a specific theme or initiative, vividly depicting the Soviet people's endeavors to meet Joseph Stalin's objectives for technological and industrial advancement.

The journal's content evolved over time, from concentrating on major state projects to encompassing diverse themes such as ethnic republics, regional developments, transportation, everyday life, and special political topics. It featured works by renowned writers like Alexander Fadeyev, Isaac Babel, and Sergei Tretyakov, and showcased photographic montages by eminent Soviet photojournalists like Max Alpert, Arkady Shaikhet, and Georgii Zelma. The visual design, managed by El Lissitzky, Sophie Lissitzky-Küppers, Alexander Rodchenko, and Varvara Stepanova, was a testament to the avant-garde artistry of the period.

"USSR in Construction" emerged shortly after Stalin's criticism of Constructivism and the establishment of socialist realism as the state-sanctioned art style. This period saw many avant-garde artists pivot to photomontage, a medium that navigated the constraints imposed on other art forms. The journal concluded its run in December 1949 and was followed by the magazine "Soviet Union" in 1950. Its influence extended beyond Soviet borders, notably inspiring the Japanese propaganda magazine "Front," which adopted a similar style and approach (Germer, 2015).

Propaganda Tool and Political Theology

 "USSR in Construction" (fig.1) was designed as a propagandistic instrument, aimed at the non-communist world. Its contents and visual representation served as a form of 'political theology' underpinning a Stalinist utopia. Feldman (2011) notes the journal's pivotal role in shaping an idealized portrayal of Soviet life, designed to appeal to and influence international perceptions. This aligns with the magazine's editorial ambition in 1930 to present the rapid growth of socialist construction in a compelling manner, using photography as a more convincing tool than written articles. The aim was not just to inform but to project an image of the USSR that aligned with Stalinist ideals and aspirations (Feldman, 2011) The efficacy of such propaganda in fostering mass political consciousness is evident in the broader context of Soviet media. White (1980) discusses the effectiveness of Soviet political propaganda in promoting Marxism-Leninism, highlighting how state-controlled media like "The USSR in Construction" played a pivotal role in shaping and reinforcing the political ideology among the populace (White, 1980).

fig.1"The USSR in Construction" physical book display, photographed on Oct.19, 2023 at the George Eastman Museum Library.
Photo by Linghao Li

Contrasting American Values

In a unique twist, "The USSR in Construction" emphasized values often associated with America, such as industrial growth and a high standard of living. This was in contrast to American publications like "America Illustrated," which emphasized the cultured and aesthetic aspects of American life. Garver (1961) highlights this juxtaposition, suggesting that the Soviet publication aimed to appeal to Western audiences by mirroring values they admired, albeit within the framework of Soviet ideology. This strategic approach reinforced the magazine's editorial goals of attracting global interest and attention to Soviet achievements. Garver (1961) notes how this approach was a deliberate effort to appeal to Western readers by mirroring values they esteemed, albeit within a socialist framework. The magazine thus became a platform where Soviet achievements were showcased through a lens that resonated with American values, creating a unique blend of Soviet propaganda and American cultural elements (Garver, 1961). The American experience, particularly during the détente period and ongoing economic reforms, became a reference for the USSR. Tarbeev (2021) discusses how this led to a potent reaction among the Soviet party elite, suggesting an acknowledgment of American cultural and economic models as benchmarks or points of contrast for Soviet policies and propaganda. This dynamic reveals a complex relationship where, despite ideological opposition, there was a tacit recognition of certain American values as desirable or at least worth engaging with in the Soviet context (Tarbeev, 2021).
Showcasing Soviet Progress Through Photography

"Front" was not only a product of Tōhōsha but also involved the Japanese International Press Photography Association, operating under the guidance of the army general staff (PrintMag, 2012). This collaboration highlights the magazine's deep entrenchment in the military and political framework of wartime Japan. The magazine's expansive reach is evidenced by its publication in 15 languages, facilitated by the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, a testament to its role as a tool for propaganda across a wide geographical area.

The format of "Front" was notably large, a choice likely influenced by its Soviet counterpart, emphasizing the impact of visual content. Front" featured captivating photomontages (Smith, 2019), a technique also popular in other Japanese publications like "Hanzai Kagaku." These montages often resulted from a collaborative process where editors provided themes to photographers, who then interpreted these prompts visually. This method of combining image and text created a dynamic interplay that enhanced the propagandistic impact while maintaining artistic integrity. Such an approach reflected a nuanced understanding of visual communication, balancing editorial direction with photographic creativity​. Which were central to its propaganda purposes, drawing parallels with "USSR in Constructio's" use of similar techniques. This choice of format and content underscored the strategic use of visual media in shaping public opinion and disseminating political narratives during the war. Significant contributions to "Front" came from Ihei Kimura, who also served as an editor, and Hiroshi Hamaya, both prominent figures in the Japanese photographic scene. Their involvement lent the magazine a blend of artistic and propagandistic elements, intertwining visual artistry with political messaging.

Japanese photographers have historically placed a high value on the presentation of their work in print, often considering books and magazine features as ideal mediums for their art. This cultural backdrop might have influenced the design ethos of "Front," where the magazine format was seen as a prestigious and effective way to present photography. The choice of using leading photographers like Ihei Kimura and Hiroshi Hamaya suggests a commitment to high artistic standards, even within a propagandistic framework (aperturewp, 2023).

fig. 2 Japanese Photo Magazines: From War Time Propaganda to a Postwar Platform for the Avant-Garde.1937

Portrayal of the Japanese War Effort

Central to Japanese propaganda was the notion of racial superiority and anti-Western ideology. As Japan expanded its territory from the 1930s and entered World War II, propaganda became a crucial tool to justify its imperial ambitions. This included portraying the Japanese race as superior and casting Western powers, particularly the British and Americans, as imperial aggressors. The concept of the "East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere" was promoted as an alternative to Western imperialism, suggesting that Asia should be controlled by Asians - implicitly under Japanese leadership. This narrative was a key element in Japanese propaganda, aiming to create a semblance of authority and affection among both the Japanese people and the inhabitants of conquered regions​ (How Did Japan Use Propaganda in World War Two?, 2019).

Japanese propaganda often revisited historical events to frame Western powers negatively. For instance, the Opium Wars between Britain and China were used to paint the British as exploiters and aggressors. By recalling these historical events, Japanese propagandists aimed to rally support for their war efforts and promote Japan as a savior in Asia, rescuing the continent from Western imperialism. This revisionist approach was not only evident in "Front" magazine but also in other media, such as wartime films, which were used to disseminate this narrative widely  (Germer, 2015).

The portrayal of Japan as a liberator and leader in Asia was a prominent theme. Japanese propaganda, including that in "Front" magazine, sought to convince both domestic and foreign audiences that Japan's military actions were intended to free Asia from Western powers. This narrative was contrasted with the real imperial ambitions of Japan, which were driven by a need for resources like coal and iron. The propaganda strategy thus involved masking these economic and territorial ambitions with a veneer of racial and ideological liberation  (Germer, 2015). 

In conclusion, "Front" served as a vital propagandistic tool for Imperial Japan during World War II, paralleling the Soviet "USSR in Construction" in its objectives and methods. Its design and format were tailored to appeal to a wide audience, and its content focused on glorifying Japan's military efforts, thereby playing a significant role in the country's wartime propaganda machinery.

Comparative Case Analysis
In undertaking a Comparative Case Analysis of photographic representations in Soviet and Japanese photobooks, particularly focusing on "The USSR in Construction" and "Front," we must first establish a methodological framework that guides our exploration and interpretation of the chosen images. This analysis aims to decipher the socio-political narratives conveyed through these photographs, and how they reflect the broader ideological contexts of the USSR and Japan during their respective eras.

To begin, we select one representative photographs from each photobook. In "The USSR in Construction," we choose an image depicting industrial progress under Soviet rule. From "Front," we select a photograph illustrating military prowess. This selection is designed to provide a balanced view of both the public and private spheres as depicted in these publications.

fig.3 Aleksandr Rodchenko. SSSR na stroike. Ezhemesiachnyi illiustrirovannyi zhurnal. Belomorsko-Baltiiskii Kanal (USSR in Construction, Monthly Illustrated Journal: The Baltic-White Sea Canal), no. 12. 1933 | MoMA

fig.4 Front, The Imperial Army is Now Crusading, 1942, nos. 3 & 4 (English)

Comparative Analysis between a photograph depicting industrial progress form "The USSR in Construction" and a photograph illustrating military prowess form "Front" The Soviet image (Fig. 3) depicts a shipbuilding scene. The composition is dynamic, with a diagonal perspective leading the eye from the foreground where a worker dominates the frame, to the background where the ship's hull stretches into the distance. This gives the viewer a sense of scale and the enormity of the shipbuilding task. The photo appears to be taken from an elevated position, which allows us to see the many workers, suggesting the collective effort involved in the construction. The repetition of the ship's ribs creates a rhythmic pattern that is aesthetically pleasing and denotes industrial precision.
Visually Analyzing The Japanese image (Fig. 4) is as propaganda for the Imperial Army. The top images show troops moving in unison—first on bicycles, then on foot—implying a well-organized and relentless military force. The bottom images are more varied, showing a cannon in the foreground with a silhouette of a soldier, tanks in action, and soldiers in vehicles. The use of silhouettes and the positioning of military hardware in the foreground conveys power and readiness for combat. The large text "THE IMPERIAL ARMY IS NOW CRUSADING: To rescue the oppressed Asia," frames the military action in a narrative context, which is typical of propaganda aiming to justify or glorify military endeavors.
Subject Matter and Propaganda: Both images serve as propaganda, though their subjects differ—one showcasing industrial effort, and the other military might. They both aim to project a narrative of strength and progress, characteristic of state-sponsored media in authoritarian regimes.

Artistic Style and Composition: Each photograph employs dramatic angles and composition to convey a sense of grandeur and significance. The elevated angles and use of perspective in both images amplify the perceived importance of the subjects.

Monochrome Medium: Monochrome Medium: The use of black and white film in both images focuses the viewer on the action and the subjects, stripping away any distractions that color might add. In both images, the lack of color focuses the viewer on textures, light, shadows, and forms without the distraction of hues.  This choice, likely a necessity of the time, also adds a unifying visual aesthetic that aligns with the serious and monumental themes they depict. The monochrome palette also contributes to the historical feel of the photographs. The framing in both is deliberate, designed to convey specific narratives—industrial prowess in the first, and military might in the second.

Representation of Subject: The Soviet image (Fig. 3) emphasizes collective labor and industrialization. The focus is on the scale of industry and the workers themselves, depicted in a manner that suggests unity and cooperation towards a common goal of industrial advancement; The Japanese image (Fig. 4), however, emphasizes military power and expansion. The focus is on the might of the Imperial Army, suggesting movement, aggression, and conquest. The narrative is about military action and nationalistic fervor, rather than industrial capability.

Artistic Style:The Soviet image (Fig. 3) leans towards socialist realism, an artistic style that was state-mandated at the time and focused on idealized depictions of communist values such as labor and industry; The Japanese image (Fig. 4) have a more dynamic range of compositions, from close-ups to landscape shots, creating a varied visual rhythm that communicates action and diversity of military operations.

Cultural Norms and Political Ideologies: Soviet image (Fig. 3) was deeply entwined with the ideology of the state, seeking to glorify the worker and the collective efforts of socialism; Japanese image (Fig. 4) of the era was influenced by the militaristic and imperialistic ambitions of the country, aiming to instill national pride and justify its military campaigns in Asia.

Reception and Lasting Impact
Contemporary and Historical Reception: In the Soviet Union, the image would have been received as a testament to the success of the Five-Year Plans and the power of the proletariat. In Japan, the image served to rally public support for the military actions of the time and was part of a broader campaign to mobilize the nation for war.

Lasting Impact on Collective Memory and Historical Discourse: TheSoviet image (Fig. 3) has contributed to the historical understanding of the USSR's focus on rapid industrialization and the human cost associated with it; The Japanese propaganda has influenced the perception of Japan's role in World War II and the ideology driving its imperial expansion.

These images reflect how different societies used photography as a tool to communicate and reinforce the prevailing ideologies of the time. They both have shaped and been shaped by the collective memory and historical discourse of their respective countries, contributing to our understanding of the era's political and cultural climates. The impact of these images continues to inform contemporary views of the period, highlighting the powerful role of visual media in shaping historical narratives.

Conclusions & Reflections
These images from the Soviet Union and Imperial Japan of the 1930s provide a stark illustration of how state powers utilize visual media to propagate their respective ideologies. While both share a commonality in their monochromatic aesthetic and propagandistic intent, they diverge in their portrayal of the collective versus the militaristic, reflecting the unique socio-political landscapes from which they arise. The Soviet image, entrenched in the narrative of socialist industrial triumph, underscores the collective spirit and the glorification of the proletariat. In contrast, the Japanese visual narrative is imbued with notions of imperialistic fervor, showcasing the might and reach of the military arm. These images, beyond their immediate impact, have etched themselves into the historical consciousness, informing and shaping the retrospective understanding of the era's cultural and political dynamics. They serve as a testament to photography's enduring power to influence collective memory and remind us of the responsibility inherent in the creation and interpretation of such visual documents. The critical examination of these images not only aids in historical understanding but also reinforces the need for vigilance in questioning the intent behind contemporary media and its influence on public perception and memory.

In concluding a comparative analysis of "The USSR in Construction" and "Front," focusing on their use as propaganda tools in Soviet and Japanese contexts, several critical reflections emerge. Both publications were instrumental in shaping and projecting national ideologies through the powerful medium of photobooks. While "The USSR in Construction" aimed to portray a utopian vision of Soviet progress and industrial might, "Front" focused on glorifying Japan's military endeavors and imperial ambitions. These magazines not only served as propaganda vehicles but also as artistic expressions, showcasing the intertwining of political messages and visual artistry. The parallels and contrasts between them highlight the significant role of media in influencing public perception and national identity during tumultuous historical periods. Their legacy lies not just in their propagandistic content but also in their contribution to the art of photography and visual narrative, which continues to influence contemporary perceptions of the World War II era. This analysis underscores the power of media as a tool for both artistic expression and ideological dissemination.

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