Vladimir and Georgii Stenberg were born in Moscow, in 1899 and 1900. They attended the Stroganov School of Applied Art and took classes in military engineering. In the early 1920s they joined with other artists including Alexander Rodchenko in an exhibition of Constructivist sculpture and painting. The Stenbergs' contributions were non objective sculptures of glass, metal, wire, and wood showing lines and planes floating in space. Their earliest graphic design efforts were for the theater which the Soviet state supported as a powerful propaganda tool. They provided inventive and graphic costumes and sets for the Moscow Chamber Theater productions by George Bernard Shaw, Eugene O'Neill and Bertolt Brecht. In one case they included the names of the characters running down the sides of their costumes.
When the Stenbergs turned their attention to film posters, they were informed by the recent innovations of Russian and Eastern European designers including Alexandre Rodchenko and Lazlo Moholy Nagy, who had incorporated the technique of photo montage in their work. They were also influenced by the cinematic montage theories of Dziga Vertov and Sergei Eisenstein. But the Stenbergs did not use photomontage in the conventional way where photographs were transposed onto the lithographic plate and then printed. Instead, they projected photographic images, with a special projector they invented, which enabled them to enlarge and distort images and turn them any way they wanted. This device allowed for greater creativity in achieving unusual compositions of fractured, isolated images of different scales and perspectives.
During their career as poster designers from 1923 through 1933, when Georgii died in a motor cycle accident, the Stenbergs produced over fifty posters, most of which look as fresh today as they must have appeared in the 1920s and early 1930s. This is probably because they have influenced so many contemporary graphic designers including the whole Swiss typography movement, Josef Muller Brockman, Armin Hoffman and students April Greiman, Dan Friedman, as well as Saul Bass and Paula Scher.
This poster was designed for the 1928 Moscow debut of the 1927 German silent film, "Die Symphonie der Grossstadt "("Symphony of a Metropolis"), directed by Walter Ruttmann and written by him along with Carl Mayer and Karl Freund. The film comprises a series of short segments, analogous to photomontage clips, showing a day in the life of Berlin from early morning to midnight as seen through the eye of the camera. The Stenbergs based their Soviet film poster on a photomontage by Otto Umbehr (Umbo) who was commissioned, along with several designers, by the film director Ruttmann to make photomontages as publicity images for the German movie. Umbo based his montage on a book entitled, "The Raging Reporter," by the Czech journalist Egon Kisch, in which he described scenes in his life as a reporter. Umbo's photomontage shows Kisch as "Communication Man" striding over the city of Berlin. One eye takes the form of a film camera, while the ears are replaced by two horns, one takes in the sound of the city, the other communicates out to the world. Kisch's thorax is composed of a typewriter on which he is typing with one hand, while the other assumes the form of a fountain pen; his legs are shown as an airplane and a car.
The Stenbergs most probably saw Umbo's photomontage in the publicity material for the German film or else via the avant garde network. They brilliantly expropriated the most significant "body parts" from the photomontage to express their figure. They cropped and enlarged these elements to fill most of the poster, and set them against a flattened and tilted skyscraper which conveys a feeling of movement—the movement of the motion picture and the reporter as well as the movement of the city and the airplane at the lower right (a legacy of the original photomontage). Beneath these metaphorical images runs, on an opposing, balancing diagonal, the movie title in a simple sans serif font, Simpfonia Bolshogo Goroda.
The other credits run sideways parallel to the multi storied building, integrating the text with the total composition. The finished work is a stunning and radical piece of graphic design evoking the life and movement of modern Berlin that presumably lured people into the cinema.