Collection of photographs

Collection of photographs

Collection of photographs

The collection of photographs of the Russian Museum of Ethnography (RME) numbers about 180,000 depository items (negatives and prints) covering the period from the mid-1840s till now. The pre-revolutionary collections comprise about 50,000 photographs (of which, two daguerrotypes and about fifteen hundred original negatives). These are unique visual evidences that captured landscape, settlements, dwellings, fishing and hunting, home occupations and crafts, ethnic clothes, everyday and festive life, and cult and ritual practices of people of various confessions in the context of ethnic and local traditions. Broadly presented in the Museum collection are children’s, women’s, men’s, and family portraits; irrespective of the subject, they are an organic combination of documentary shooting’s accuracy and vividness with artistic expression.

From the very start of the activity of the Russian Museum’s Ethnographic Department (ED) special attention was given to the necessity of completing ethnographic materials with photo pictures, and so photograph (negative and print) got the status of ethnographic artifact equally with objects. Photo cameras were purchased already in the first year of functioning (1902), and, as the Museum’s first curator N. M. Mogilyansky noted, “every expedition or small excursion managed by the Department was provided as possible with cameras and plates.” The negatives taken were brought to ED, carefully selected and printed, in particular in various photo studios of Petersburg (ED’s own photo studio was started in 1912); next, the negatives and prints were recorded similar to collections of objects, always indicating the geographic and ethnic pertinence of the subject matter.

The start of building the Museum's photo archive was marked by the collection of negatives and their prints from the outstanding researcher and photographer S. M. Dudin (20 collections, over 2,000 photos). He made them during the 1900–1902 expeditions in Central Asia. In the first decade of activity of ED, the foundation was laid for a unique photo archive unparalleled in Russian museum practice. This was supported by large-scale expedition and acquisition activity.

In field work, various methods of acquisition of photographic collections may be singled out. The first one is related to the activity of an ethnographer/researcher knowing how to handle a camera. They are photographs taken in 1902–1910 in Russian, Ukrainian, and Belarusian villages by the Museum’s curators N. M. Mogilyansky, E. A. Lyatsky, F. K. Volkov, and A. K. Serzputowski. Collections were also received from the Museum’s correspondents (many of them later became its employees) who did research in northern, central and southern provinces of European Russia, in the Caucasus, Central Asia and Siberia. Among them were M. A. Krukovsky, L. L. Kapitsa, I. A. Zaretsky, A. M. Vysotsky, S. I. Sergel, I. K. Zelenov, V. N. Clark, N. I. Repnikov, A. A. Miller, A. S. Piralov, P. N. Beketov, F. Ya. Kohn, A. V. Adrianov, S. I. Rudenko, B. O. Pilsudsky, D. E. Ukhtomsky etc. A. K. Serzputowski was one of the first to have documented small-numbered ethnicities in hard-to-reach areas of West Dagestan in 1910.

The second group of collections is a result of collaboration of photographers and scientists: A. N. Pavlovich and V. M. Mashechkin, two talented Museum photographers who took part in the 1911 expeditions of L. V. Kostikov and K. K. Romanov, captured the life of the Russian North. The pictures of Volga peoples were taken by photographer K. T. Safonov (studies of I. N. Smirnov, 1900s); of Yenisei Province Evenki, by K. A. Maslennikov (A. A. Makarenko’s trip to Podkamennaya Tunguska in 1907–1908); and of the Ainu of Hokkaido Island, by Petersburg’s photographer D. D. Gimmer (1912 expedition of V. N. Vasiliev).

In 1902–1918, the Museum actively cooperated with private collectors, amateurs and connoisseurs of ethnography: E. E. Ukhtomsky, V. P. Schneider, V. P. and N. P. Shabelsky, V. V. Stasov, A. A. Bobrinsky, A. K. Zavadsky etc. Gradually, not only the geography of photographs acquired for the Museum expanded, but their chronology as well: the collection was made up with pictures of the second half of the 19th century. Several photo collections were donated to the Museum by Emperor Nicholas II personally. A special place in the depository belongs to the collections of D. I. Yermakov, one of the most famous photographers of the Caucasus, winner of many awards from European photographic societies, who collaborated with ED in 1903–1914, so that over 1200 pictures came from his studio to the Museum’s collection, dated mainly the last quarter of the 19th century.

In 1912 when a special depository or stills library was set up, the photo assets numbered over 8,000 negatives and 11,000 prints. By the early 1920s, the depository kept about 25,000 photographs, of which over 10,000 glass and film negatives of various size (from 9×12 to 18×24 cm) and prints made from them (most of the negatives perished during a bombing in 1941).

In the 1920–1930s, the collections were actively replenished due to efficient work of integrated ethnographic expeditions sent by the Commission for Studying the Population’s Ethnic Structure to several regions of the country. They were the Upper Volga, Lapp, North-Western, Karelian expeditions (headed by D. A. Zolotarev); those sent to areas of Voronezh and Semipalatinsk Oblasts (headed by N. P. Grinkova, involving Ye. E. Blomqist); expedition of V. V. Charnolusky’s to the Kola Peninsula; of S. I. Rudenko and M. P. Gryaznov to Altai, etc.

Also in that period, regular acquisition of news photos began – from the TASS News Photography, Novosti Press Agency, editorial boards of Soviet newspapers (“Pravda Vostoka,” “Kommuna,” “Groznensky Rabochiy” etc.), and personally from photo journalists. These collections have over 600 names and 8,000 photos taken from 1917 till the early 1980s all over the Soviet Union; each decade is represented by an ample compilation of stories – reports on the nation’s life. Among them are unique photos of the 1930s by M. Penson, E. Langman, B. Ignatovich; of the 1940–1950s by E. Haldei, E. Yevzerikhin, M. Red’kin, N. Granovsky and several other prominent cameramen. The collections of the late Soviet period are represented by works of B. Klipinitzer, V. Sobolev and V. Velikzhanin.

In the 1920–1940s, the photo archive collection was replenished with collections received from various reformed institutions of the country. These are albums of the 1870–1890s dedicated to the culture of Caucasian peoples and transferred in 1928 from the Leningrad Branch of the State Museum Fund; the photographs of Jews from the photo archive of the Society of Jewish Agricultural Partnerships. About 20,000 photographs were received from Moscow’s Museum of the Peoples of the USSR, among which are materials of the 1867 Ethnographic Exhibition, M. I. Greim’s albums of the 1870s, pictures of the 1890–1900s from the collections of N. L. Shabelskaya and N. N. Kharuzin, 1923 All-Union Agricultural and Handicraft Exhibition etc.

From the start of the 1950s, the Museum’s employees began to use portable film cameras during expeditions, which greatly simplified photographing, and expedition negatives began to flow to the stills collection in large numbers. The Museum’s collection was greatly replenished with expedition pictures: by the end of the 1980s it had increased by 65,000 (of which over 46,000 were negatives).

Currently, acquisitions for the depository continue, but not on such a high scale as in the 20th century. The photography department personnel and regional departments continuously study and attribute photo collections. In 2005-2022, many articles on this theme were published in scientific journals and albums under various exhibition and research projects.

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