The trace of St. Petersburg in photographs from Moscow private collections. 1839–1917
David Ivanovich Grimm, Architecture Academician, professor of the Academy of Sciences, project designer for the Grand Dukes' burial vault in St. Petersburg's Peter-and-Paul fortress and one of the founders of the «Russian style» in architecture, finds his place side by side with a «laundrywoman» who seems likely to have done the laundry for Gogol's characters…
Several unidentified facades and familiar railway stations Ostashkino and Osechenka beside the famous iconostasis of St. Isaak's Cathedral (page from the «Artistic Treasures of Ancient and Modern Russia») photographed by the Frenchman Pierre-Ambroise Richebourg, Theophile Gautier's companion on his St. Petersburg journey.
Portrait of Aivazovsky, portrait of Bekhterev, daguerreotype picturing a group of «reading» St. Petersburg folks, several expressive genre photographs with cabmen, the Grand Dukes on a picnic, an outstanding «Entrance to «Solyanoi Gorodok» exhibition pavilion on Fontanka Embankment», «portraits» of pedigreed horses and the nostalgic «Historical Ball» of the 1903…
The exhibition «Moscow – St. Petersburg» is an unprecedented combination of photographs coming from personal Moscow-based collections and connected (some in a very inexpected way) with the Northern Capital.
Moscow collectors Mikhail Golosovsky, Anatoly Zlobovsky, Aleksey Loginov and Pavel Khoroshilov introduce the «Moscow» principles of selection which means shifting the general concept towards subjective choice and personal preferences of the collectors.
The differences in collectors' approaches to the selection of material for the exhibition is explained by the specifics of both images and collections themselves and has obviously little in common with the common principles of institutional work. In every case Mikhail Golosovsky's intuitive, «aesthetic inexpectedness» shows the opposite of Aleksey Loginov's consistent and strictly aligned classification (the latter related to frequent use of image as illustrations for his lectures on the history of photography).
Pavel Khoroshilov seeks to search for the «punctum» and pays special attention to the direct and stunning effect of photographic image on the viewer. The main principles observed by A. Zlovobsky include historical veracity of material, wide cultural context, precise information about «the photographer and the photographed».
The exhibition presents to the audience for the first time daguerreotypes from Mikhail Golosovsky's personal collection, including the «amusing pieces», stereoscopic images by F. I. Alexandrovsky, graduate of the Imperial Academy of Arts: a group of three men reading a newspaper and portrait of a young officer (1953).
Daguerreotype portraits became common in the 1840s–1850s as specific form of art and a sort of miniature. In order to emphasize the connection of new daguerreotype to the traditional forms of visual art, daguerreotypists tinted the images as had already been done by photographers producing paper based images.
Especially interesting among material presented in the exhibition are the pages of photographic albums belonging to Moscow private collections. Among these are the well known photographs from A. Denier's «Album of Photographic Portraits of Their Majesties and The Russia's Famous. 1865–1866» and less known I. Monstein's «Types of St. Petersburg» as well as the images of facades familiar to connoisseurs of St. Petersburg architecture, photographed at the turn of the XX century, and daguerreotype portraits of St. Petersburg inhabitants dating back to the 1840s-1850s.
It was early into the reign of Alexander II that the state first became actively interested in photography, which gave an impulse to the visual reclamation of the Empire. In a short while the gallery representative of the «new image» of Russia was formed – with the aid of photography.
The Crimean war (1853–1856) and political humiliation of the defeat determined the search of Alexander II for the means to recover Russia's stature and create a positive image of Russia in Europe. The country was trying to escape isolation and show itself in a favorable light. Photography became the most appropriate instrument to help achieve these aims. The society feels the conscious need to, literally, «contemplate itself» in the internal (Russian) and external (European) context.
In 1859, the Emperor personally patronized the first publication of the «Artistic Treasures of Ancient and Modern Russia» conceived by Theophile Gautier together with photographer P.-A. Richebourg and intended primarily for European distribution.
The album of I. Goffert presented at the exhibition opened to the XIX century viewer the image of the thriving Russian Empire and introduced new voyage routes. A. Richeboug's photographs of Tsarskoe Selo and William Carrick's «types» presented various reflections of the familiar Russia. Obviously, in the XIX century Russia, with its specific treatment of book as «sacred» object, such albums were perceived as «books of images». In this position photography competes (and often successfully) with literature and journalism, journey sketches and expedition diaries. At the same time, photography obtains artistic qualities and a new status which is immediately accepted by the society.
The great tradition of the archivation of photography in Russia is illustrated by the dates of the establishment of the greatest national photography collections: Russian National Library (1856), Russian Ethnography Museum (1839), Russian State Library (1828), State Historical Museum (1972), Photography Department of the Scientific Archive at the Institute of the History of Material Culture of the Russian Science Academy (1859).
The principles of collection arrangement and description, even the storage structure of Moscow and St. Petersburg collections, bring to memory the fierce disputes about the place of photography among other arts that lasted from mid-XIX century up to the 1900s.
Many of the works shown in the exhibition were created at the turn of the century, in the high-day of photography. Certainly, a great influence comes from shooting location, St. Petersburg, the capital of the Russian Empire and of the first photography studios. Photographs made in A. Lorens's studio show the timid look of the lower-class, not yet accustomed in the 1860s to cameras and to photographers' attention. A very different attitude is shown in the 1900s Wasserman studio portrait of an unknown lady who looks at the camera with calmness and vigilance, or St. Petersburg high society posing self-consciously and indifferently during a ball in the Winter Palace (Boissonas and Eggler, 1913) or carelessly reacting to documentary shooting at a picnic in Krasnoye Selo (L. Gorodetsky, 1916).
However, the existence of the world is already overtaken in the exhibition by the metaphor of the future endless journey from station to station… although for now the journey takes place only between Moscow and St. Petersburg.
In this way, photographs from I. Goffert's album dedicated to Moscow – St. Petersburg railroad become the symbol and metaphor of the exhibition supporting its conceptual and visual structure and expanding its artistic context.
I thought it important, in showing only fragments of the collections, to detect the aesthetic incention that determined the emergence of each image and to add a different quality and demonstrative status to the photographic material.
I tried to overcome a certain temptation by choosing only the images that would be able to communicate to the audience the synthesis of a specific event captured in the photograph and the unique visual language of the image itself.
The innocent admiration with the reality of the world captured by light on paper is passing. What stays forever is the surprise of looking at the image of oneself obtained by the aid of glass and chemical solution, and the memory which either does not know what do to with this feeling or purposefully takes advantage of it.
And, finally, the present exhibition will be more interesting for the «adventure seekers» than for those looking for a selection of «the best and well known» arranged in strict accordance to chronology and names.
More than 150 vintage photographic views of St.-Petersburg of the middle of 19th - beginning 20th centuries from the Russian National Library, State Museum of History of St.-Petersburg, Institute of Material Culture History of Russian Academy of Sciences, and the ROSPHOTO collection
Photographs from the collection of the State Historical Museum taken between 1860s and 1920s
A series of exhibitions dedicated to its 10 year anniversary
Photographs of the turn of the XX century
Late XIX – early XX century photographs from the collection of ROSPHOTO
Photographs of the turn of the XX century from St. Petersburg archives