Online catalog

The project became the winner of the Second Competition of Museum and Exhibition Grants of the Russian Jewish Congress for the development of projects in the field of Jewish culture.

Remember the days of old;

reflect upon the years of generations!

D”varim, 32:7

“Glimpses of the Past. Images of the Jewish People in the Russian Empire’s Photography. From the Collections of the Russian Museum of Ethnography" is the first in the museum’s history online catalog of photo collections on the Jewish culture.  The project became the winner of the Second Competition of Museum and Exhibition Grants of the Russian Jewish Congress for the development of projects in the field of Jewish culture.

For the first time, on the basis of the Museum’s KAMIS RME database, 300 photographs of the mid-19th century – first third of the 20th century, which are priceless evidence of traditions and everyday life of various local groups and diasporas of the Jewish people, are published in three languages (Russian, English, and Hebrew).

Ethnographic photograph as an important visual document began to determine the uniqueness of many collections at the break of the 20th century. An exceptional place in this aspect belonged to the Ethnography Department of the Emperor Alexander III Russian Museum (which is now the Russian Museum of Ethnography), where special attention was given from the outset to acquiring ethnographic materials in the form of photographic pictures. For this purpose, photo cameras were purchased, after which, as the first curator N. M. Mogilyansky noted, “every expedition or small excursion launched by the Department was provided as possible with cameras and plates.” The negatives taken were brought to ED, where they were developed and recorded along with artifact collections. In addition to staff members (the Museum had just a few employees in the early 20th century), the success of the Ethnography Department’s efforts was greatly determined also by efficient cooperation with the Museum’s correspondents, prominent scientists and museum people, collectors, local historians etc. 

The catalog now published is a remarkable illustration of the unique relationship of science and museum tradition. The authors expanded the source study base in writing the descriptions of photographs. They used diary records, researchers’ reports, and papers of scientists and famous writers, available online information resources on Judaism (toldot.ru, J-roots.ru, eleven.co.il, ujew.com, myshtetle.org, arzamas.academy), history of photography (rusalbum.ru, fototikon.blogspot.com), archives, libraries, consulting of museum staff (T.Yu. Emelianenko and L.A. Slastnikova).

The collected information is the basis for the annotations to the photographs of the nine sections of the published catalog, texts and reference-indexes. K.Yu. Solovyeva has introduced photographs of such famous photographers as K. Brandel, F. Bonfils, S.A. Yurkovsky, I. Sh. Serebrin, A.Kh. Zimson, I.S. Felser, S.S. Felser, I.M. Yakobson, A.A. Posse, J.L. Tiraspolsky, and others, specified the time when photos from the collections of M.I. Greim, D.I. Ermakov, F. OrdeN, F. Bonfis were created, fully attributed A.D. Elkind’s collection, identified historical figures on the photographs (Hazzan S.M. Neiman, Hakham S.M. Pampulov). E.F. Kononova was the first to systematize expedition photographs of the staff and correspondents of the Ethnographic Department and photographs from the ethnographic expedition of S.A. An-sky, clarifications were made to the titles and dating, 4 more original negatives by S. B. Yudovin were attributed and registered in the REM collection.

Most of the 300 photographs, or 232 images (66 negatives and 177 prints), represent the culture of the European Jews, the most numerous group, which made 98.7 percent of the total number of the Jewish population in the Russian Empire at the end of the 19th century. 23 photos are scenes from the life of the Bukharan Jews; 12 photos of the Mountain and Caucasus Jews; 4 of the Jews of Kurdistan; 20 of the Karaites; 7 of the Krymchaks; and of the Jews of Palestine and North Africa, one photo each.

It is the photo collection on the Jewish culture that enable presenting them also in the context of the history of Russian photography: the catalog photos are systematized in the chronological order, indicating the print and negative types. In each section, pictures are grouped either by authorship (in photos of the 19th century) or geographically (expedition photos), with brief information given on the basis of attribution made on the photographers, shooting time and place, and the shtetls.

The earliest materials are the only daguerreotype (mid-1850s) and 25 photos from the 1867 Russian Ethnographic Exhibition. The 1870s-1890s are represented by vivid Jewish images from the Turkestan album and pictures purchased by Russian seamen during the circumnavigation of 1881-1882; by works of the prominent photographer M. I. Greim, Conrad Brandel, a pioneer of photo journalism, and famous Caucasian photographers D.I. Ermakov and F. OrdeNa. Images of Jewish petit bourgeois and intelligentsia made in photo studios in the cities of Vitebsk, Smolensk, Kazan, Rostov-on-Don, Kremenchug, Simferopol, Eupatoria, Birsk, Moscow, Petersburg, are shown on the example of studio portraits, including the works of such famous masters as S.A. Yurkovskiy, I. Serebrin, V.V. Ostrovsky, A.Kh. Zimson, V.V. Roller, Ya.L. Tiraspolsky, V.G. Chekhovsky, G.R. Ziv, A.A. Otsup and others.

Two sections of the catalog are dedicated to Jewish photos taken in expedition travels by the Museum’s employees and correspondents in the late 19th and first quarter of the 20th century, 143 pictures in all, of which 66 are materials of the Jewish Ethnographic Expedition of S. A. An-sky that surveyed Jewish shtetls in the Pale of Settlement pre-revolutionary Russia. As of today, RME is the only owner of original glass negatives made in 1912-1914 by photographer Solomon Yudovin; some of them were attributed during the preparation of the catalog. The two expedition sections cross each other thematically and geographically: pictures taken at an interval of several years or even a decade complement each other, opening new pages of Jewsih shtetls.

Each picture in the catalog is a separate story from the life of Jews of various ethnic and local groups. The pictures made by professional photographers, researchers, and local historians are priceless evidence of their time, which reflected the most relevant and still timeless values of the Jewish people’s life: faith giving strength and joining the generations since the time of Moses, family, and children.

The catalog is supplemented with the expressly prepared online exhibition “Jewish Wife and her Role in Family” and the album “Jewish Shtetl in the Graphics of Solomon Yudovin,” and provided with reference indices (by collections, personalities, photographing geography, terms of Judaism, photographic processes).

The catalog of unique photographs published in such scope for the first time will allow all those interested in the Jewish culture to discover new facets of its infinite treasures.

 

K.Y. Solovyeva, Project Manager,

Head of Photography Department

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